Term of Award

Spring 2014

Degree Name

Master of Science in Experimental Psychology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

C. Thresa Yancey

Committee Member 1

Karen Naufel

Committee Member 2

Jeff Klibert


There is insufficient evidence from the available research to fully determine the relationship between self-esteem and helping behaviors. Specifically, some findings indicate that those with lower self-esteem are less likely to help others than those with higher self-esteem (Michelini, Wilson, & Messe, 1975), while others show the opposite trend (Briggs, Landry, & Wood, 2007). Individuals with a history of childhood trauma are more likely to report low self-esteem than those with no history of childhood trauma (Valerio & Lepper, 2009); also, those with a history of trauma are more likely to help others (Frazier, Greer, Gabrielsen, Tennen, Park, & Tomlich, 2012). Based on the available literature, it is difficult to predict 1. whether someone with low self-esteem will help others more than someone with higher self-esteem, and 2. whether the lower self-esteem reported by those with a history of childhood trauma is related to the likelihood of helping behaviors. The current study investigated these gaps in the literature regarding self-esteem, childhood trauma, and helping behaviors. Participants completed questionnaires on self-esteem and history of trauma experiences and provided demographic information. Additionally, to evaluate current helping behaviors, participants were given the opportunity to further assist the researchers with several tasks. Number of helping tasks completed as well as self-esteem scores were the dependent variables. The results revealed that individuals who report a history of trauma were more likely to endorse lower self-esteem, but were also more likely to engage in helping behaviors than individuals with no history of trauma. Additionally, the results revealed no evidence of self-esteem mediating the relationship between trauma history and helping behaviors.