Skip to main content

Personality and Prosocial Behavior: A Multilevel Meta-Analysis*


We investigate the effect of personality on prosocial behavior in a Bayesian multilevel meta-analysis (MLMA) of 15 published, interdisciplinary experimental studies. With data from the 15 studies constituting nearly 2500 individual observations, we find that the Big Five traits of Agreeableness and Openness are significantly and positively associated with prosocial behavior, while none of the other three traits are. These results are robust to a number of different model specifications and operationalizations of prosociality, and they greatly clarify the contradictory findings in the literature on the relationship between personality and prosocial behavior. Though previous research has indicated that incentivized experiments result in reduced prosocial behavior, we find no evidence that monetary incentivization of participants affects prosocial tendencies. By leveraging individual observations from multiple studies and explicitly modeling the multilevel structure of the data, MLMA permits the simultaneous estimation of study- and individual-level effects. The Bayesian approach allows us to estimate study-level effects in an unbiased and efficient manner, even with a relatively small number of studies. We conclude by discussing the limitations of our study and the advantages and disadvantages of the MLMA method.

Hide All

Reuben Kline, Department of Political Science, Center for Behavioral Political Economy, Stony Brook University, SUNY 4392, Stony Brook, NY 11794 ( Alexa Bankert, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, School of Public and International Affairs, University of Georgia, 104 Baldwin St, Athens, GA 30602, ( Lindsey Levitan, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Shepherd University, 301 N King Street, Shepherdstown, WV 25443, ( Patrick Kraft, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4392, ( The authors would like to thank those who generously shared their data with the authors. The authors also thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their helpful suggestions which greatly improved the paper. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

Hide All
Adorno Theodor W., Frenkel-Brunswik Else, Levinson Daniel J., and Sanford R. Nevitt. 1950. The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper and Row.
Alford John R., Funk Carolyn L., and Hibbing John R.. 2005. ‘Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?American Political Science Review 99(2):153167.
Alford John R., and Hibbing John R.. 2007. ‘Personal, Interpersonal, and Political Temperaments’. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 614(1):196212.
Altemeyer Bob. 1988. Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Artinger Florian, Exadaktylos Filippos, Koppel Hannes, and Sääksvuori Lauri. 2014. ‘In Others’ Shoes: Do Individual Differences in Empathy and Theory of Mind Shape Social Preferences?PloS one 9(4):e92844.
Ashton Michael C., and Lee Kibeom. 2007. ‘Empirical, Theoretical, and Practical Advantages of the Hexaco Model of Personality Structure’. Personality and Social Psychology Review 11(2):150166.
Beilin Harry, and Eisenberg Nancy. 2013. The Development of Prosocial Behavior. New York: Academic Press.
Bekkers René. 2005. ‘Participation in Voluntary Associations: Relations With Resources, Personality, and Political Values’. Political Psychology 26(3):439454.
Ben-Ner Avner, and Kramer Amit. 2011. ‘Personality and Altruism in the Dictator Game: Relationship to Giving to Kin, Collaborators, Competitors, and Neutrals’. Personality and Individual Differences 51(3):216221.
Ben-Ner Avner, Putterman Louis, Kong Fanmin, and Magan Dan. 2004. ‘Reciprocity in a Two-Part Dictator Game’. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 53(3):333352.
Brocklebank Sean, Lewis Gary J., and Bates Timothy C. 2011. ‘Personality Accounts for Stable Preferences and Expectations Across a Range of Simple Games’. Personality and Individual Differences 51(8):881886.
Costa Paul T., and McCrae Robert R.. 1992. ‘Normal Personality Assessment in Clinical Practice: The Neo Personality Inventory’. Psychological Assessment 4(1):5–13.
Denissen Jaap J. A., and Penke Lars. 2008. ‘Motivational Individual Reaction Norms Underlying the Five-Factor Model of Personality: First Steps Towards a Theory-Based Conceptual Framework’. Journal of Research in Personality 42(5):12851302.
Denny Kevin, and Doyle Orla. 2008. ‘Political Interest, Cognitive Ability and Personality: Determinants of Voter Turnout in Britain’. British Journal of Political Science 38(2):291310.
Doucouliagos Hristos, and Ulubaşoğlu Mehmet Ali. 2008. ‘Democracy and Economic Growth: A Meta-Analysis’. American Journal of Political Science 52(1):6183.
Druckman James N., Green Donald P., Kuklinski James H., and Lupia Arthur. 2006. ‘The Growth and Development of Experimental Research in Political Science’. American Political Science Review 100(4):627–635.
Edlin Aaron S., Gelman Andrew, and Kaplan Noah. 2007. ‘Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others’. Rationality and Society 1:293314.
Fischbacher Urs, Gächter Simon, and Fehr Ernst. 2001. ‘Are People Conditionally Cooperative? Evidence From a Public Goods Experiment’. Economics Letters 71(3):397404.
Flynn Francis J. 2005. ‘Having an Open Mind: The Impact of Openness to Experience on Interracial Attitudes and Impression Formation’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88(5):816–826.
Fowler James H. 2006. ‘Altruism and Turnout’. Journal of Politics 68(3):674683.
Fowler James H., and Dawes Christopher T.. 2008. ‘Two Genes Predict Voter Turnout’. The Journal of Politics 70(3):579594.
Fowler James H., and Kam Cindy D.. 2007. ‘Beyond the Self: Social Identity, Altruism, and Political Participation’. Journal of Politics 69(3):813827.
Gelman Andrew. 2006. ‘Prior Distributions for Variance Parameters in Hierarchical Models’. Bayesian Analysis 1(3):515534.
Gelman Andrew, and Hill Jennifer. 2007. Data Analysis Using Regression and Hierarchical/Multilevel Models. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Gelman Andrew, Carlin John B., Stern Hal S., Dunson David B., Vehtari Aki, and Rubin Donald B.. 2014. Bayesian Data Analysis 3rd ed. New York: CRC Press.
Gerber Alan S., Huber Gregory A., Doherty David, Dowling Conor M., and Ha Shang E.. 2010. ‘Personality and Political Attitudes: Relationships Across Issue Domains and Political Contexts’. American Political Science Review 104(1):111133.
Goldstein Harvey, Yang Min, Omar Rumana, Turner Rebecca, and Thompson Simon. 2000. ‘Meta-Analysis Using Multilevel Models With an Application to the Study of Class Size Effects’. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics) 49(3):399412.
Gunnthorsdottir Anna, McCabe Kevin, and Smith Vernon. 2002. ‘Using the Machiavellianism Instrument to Predict Trustworthiness in a Bargaining Game’. Journal of Economic Psychology 23(1):4966.
Hilbig Benjamin E., and Zettler Ingo. 2009. ‘Pillars of Cooperation: Honesty–Humility, Social Value Orientations, and Economic Behavior’. Journal of Research in Personality 43(3):516519.
Hilbig Benjamin E., Zettler Ingo, Moshagen Morten, and Heydasch Timo. 2012. ‘Tracing the Path from Personality Via Cooperativeness to Conservation’. European Journal of Personality 27(4):319327.
Hilbig Benjamin E., Zettler Ingo, and Heydasch Timo. 2012. ‘Personality, Punishment and Public Goods: Strategic Shifts Towards Cooperation as a Matter of Dispositional Honesty–Humility’. European Journal of Personality 26(3):245254.
Hirsh Jacob B., and Peterson Jordan B.. 2009. ‘Extraversion, Neuroticism, and the Prisoners Dilemma’. Personality and Individual Differences 46(2):254256.
Hox Joop J., Moerbeek Mirjam, and van de Schoot Rens 2010. Multilevel Analysis: Techniques and Applications. New York: Routledge.
Koole Sander L., Jager Wander, van den Berg Agnes E., Vlek Charles A. J., and Hofstee Willem K. B.. 2001. ‘On the Social Nature of Personality: Effects of Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Feedback About Collective Resource Use on Cooperation in a Resource Dilemma’. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27(3):289301.
Kurzban Robert, and Houser Daniel. 2001. ‘Individual Differences in Cooperation in a Circular Public Goods Game’. European Journal of Personality 15(S1):S37S52.
Lasswell Harold D. 1930. Psychopathology and Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lau Richard R., Sigelman Lee, Heldman Caroline, and Babbitt Paul. 1999. ‘The Effects of Negative Political Advertisements: A Meta-Analytic Assessment’. American Political Science Review 93 (4):851875.
Lee Kibeom, and Ashton Michael C.. 2004. ‘Psychometric Properties of the Hexaco Personality Inventory’. Multivariate Behavioral Research 39(2):329358.
Loewen Peter John. 2010. ‘Affinity, Antipathy, and Political Participation: How our Concern for Others Makes us Vote’. Canadian Journal of Political Science 43(3):661687.
Lönnqvist Jan-Erik, Verkasalo Markku, and Walkowitz Gari. 2011. ‘It Pays to Pay–Big Five Personality Influences on Co-Operative Behaviour in an Incentivized and Hypothetical Prisoner’s Dilemma Game’. Personality and Individual Differences 50(2):300304.
McCrae Robert R., and Costa Paul T.. 1989. ‘Reinterpreting the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator from the Perspective of the Five-Factor Model of Personality’. Journal of personality 57(1):1740.
McCrae Robert R., and Costa Paul T.. 1995. ‘Trait Explanations in Personality Psychology’. European Journal of Personality 9(4):231252.
Mondak Jeffery J. 2010. Personality and the Foundations of Political Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Morton Rebecca B., and Williams Kenneth C.. 2010. Experimental Political Science and the Study of Causality: From Nature to the Lab. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Myers Isabel Briggs, McCaulley Mary H., and Most Robert. 1985. Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Peysakhovich Alexander, Nowak Martin A., and Rand David G.. 2014. ‘Humans Display a Cooperative Phenotype That is Domain General and Temporally Stable’. Nature Communications 5:4939–69.
Pothos Emmanuel M., Perry Gavin, Corr Philip J., Matthew Mervin R., and Busemeyer Jerome R.. 2011. ‘Understanding Cooperation in the Prisoners Dilemma Game’. Personality and Individual Differences 51(3):210215.
Sautter John A., Littvay Levente, and Bearnes Brennen. 2007. ‘A Dual-Edged Sword: Empathy and Collective Action in the Prisoner’s Dilemma’. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 614(1):154171.
Schmitt Pamela, Shupp Robert, Swope Kurtis J., and Mayer Justin. 2004. ‘Personality Preferences and Pre-Commitment: Behavioral Explanations in Ultimatum Games’. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
Schmitt Pamela, Shupp Robert, Swope Kurtis, and Mayer Justin. 2008. ‘Pre-commitment and personality: Behavioral explanations in ultimatum games’. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 66(3):597605.
Smith Vernon L. 1976. ‘Experimental Economics: Induced Value Theory’. The American Economic Review 66(2):274279.
Stan Development Team. 2016. Rstan: The R Interface to Stan, Version 2.9.0. Available at Accessed on 1 July 2015.
Stegmueller Daniel. 2013. ‘How Many Countries for Multilevel Modeling? A Comparison of Frequentist and Bayesian Approaches’. American Journal of Political Science 57(3):748761.
Swope Kurtis J., Cadigan John, Schmitt Pamela M., and Shupp Robert. 2008. ‘Personality Preferences in Laboratory Economics Experiments’. The Journal of Socio-Economics 37(3):9981009.
Thompson Simon G., and Higgins Julian. 2002. ‘How Should Meta-Regression Analyses be Undertaken and Interpreted?Statistics in Medicine 21(11):15591573.
Thompson Simon G., Turner Rebecca M., and Warn David E.. 2001. ‘Multilevel Models for Metaanalysis, and their Application to Absolute Risk Differences’. Statistical Methods in Medical Research 10(6):375392.
Turner Rebecca M., Omar Rumana Z., Yang Min, Goldstein Harvey, and Thompson Simon G.. 2000. ‘A Multilevel Model Framework for Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials With Binary Outcomes’. Statistics in Medicine 19(24):34173432.
Yamagishi Toshio, Mifune Nobuhiro, Li Yang, Shinada Mizuho, Hashimoto Hirofumi, Horita Yutaka, Miura Arisa, Inukai Keigo, Tanida Shigehito, Kiyonari Toko, Takagishi Haruto, and Simunovic. Dora 2013. ‘Is Behavioral Pro-Sociality Game-Specific? Pro-Social Preference and Expectations of Prosociality’. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 120(2):260271.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Kline et al. supplementary material

Supplementary Materials

Kline supplementary material

 PDF (438 KB)
438 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 76 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 449 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 8th June 2017 - 20th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.