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  8. »Christina S. Sinisi, Ph.D.

Department of Psychological Sciences

Christina S. Sinisi, Ph.D.

Advisor: Dr. Mark Barnett

Dissertation Title

The origins of volunteerism: socialization antecedents and personal variables

Dissertation Abstract

Psychologists have been concerned for some time with determining the characteristics of individuals who help others spontaneously in laboratories and other contrived situations. In contrast, there is little information concerning the origins and correlates of planned helping. While a few researchers (e.g., Clary & Miller, 1986; Steiner, 1976) have assessed the influence of socialization variables on volunteerism, individual studies have (a) confounded different parenting variables and (b) overlooked possible personality correlates of volunteering. The purpose of the present research was to assess the ability of various parenting and personality variables to predict volunteering.

In Study 1, United Way and Red Cross volunteers, plus the staff of a local college, were mailed questionnaires measuring respondents' volunteering, empathy, religiosity, parents' behavior, and perceptions of volunteers' motives for helping. 105 volunteers (69 females) and 50 nonvolunteers (28 females) returned their questionnaires. Discriminant analysis revealed that volunteers rated their mothers as having presented a stronger model of volunteering behavior, both behaviorally and verbally, than did nonvolunteers. Volunteers also rated their mothers as more lenient, and their fathers as stricter disciplinarians, than did nonvolunteers. Individuals who had volunteered perceived volunteers in general as being motivated more by a concern for others, and less by a need to avoid guilt or shame, than did nonvolunteers.

Study 2 consisted of two separate sessions. In the first session, the above questionnaires were administered to high school students. Two weeks later, another experimenter, posing as a recruiter, asked the students to volunteer for the local United Way and/or Red Cross organizations. Of the 120 high school students (68 females) who participated, 32 (25 females) expressed a desire to volunteer. Discriminant analysis revealed that high school students willing to volunteer were more likely to rate their mothers as having presented a strong behavioral model of volunteering and to perceive volunteers as being motivated by a concern for others than those students unwilling to volunteer.

The results of these studies suggest that (a) having a mother who modelled the importance of volunteering and (b) perceiving volunteerism as being motivated by a concern for others may be important correlates of volunteerism. Future research involving more diverse volunteers is discussed.


Ph.D., Psychology, Kansas State University, 1993