Benefits of volunteering on psychological well-being in older adulthood: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial

Da JIANG, Lisa M. WARNER, Alice Ming-Lin CHONG, Tianyuan LI, Julia K. WOLFF, Kee Lee CHOU

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objectives: Long-term volunteering has been associated with better physical, mental, and cognitive health in correlational studies. Few studies, however, have examined the longitudinal benefits of volunteering with randomized experimental designs (e.g., intervention studies). Even fewer studies have examined whether such benefits can be shown after short-term volunteering. To fill this gap, we conducted four 1-hour volunteering intervention sessions to promote volunteering among a group of older adults with limited volunteering experience and examined the impact of volunteering on depressive symptoms, meaning in life, general self-efficacy, and perceived autonomy.
Methods: A total of 384 participants aged 50–96 years were assigned at random to either an intervention group to promote volunteering behaviors or an active control group to promote physical activity. The participants’ monthly volunteering minutes, depressive symptoms, meaning in life, general self-efficacy and perceived autonomy were measured at baseline and six weeks, three months, and six months after the intervention.
Results: Being in the volunteering intervention condition was not directly associated with depressive symptoms, meaning in life, general self-efficacy, or perceived autonomy at the 6-week, 3-month, or 6-month follow-ups after the intervention. However, there was an indirect effect of the intervention on depressive symptoms: participants in the intervention group, who had increased their volunteering at the 3-month follow-up, reported fewer depressive symptoms at the 6-month follow-up.
Discussion: Our randomized controlled trial suggests that short-term volunteering does not reliably lead to short-term changes in psychosocial health measures as correlational studies would suggest. Efforts need to be made to encourage older adults to maintain long-term volunteering. Copyright © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAging and Mental Health
Early online date28 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2020


Randomized Controlled Trials
Self Efficacy
Mental Health
Research Design
Control Groups


Jiang, D., Warner, L. M., Chong, A. M.-L., Li, T., Wolff, J. K., & Chou, K.-L. (2020). Benefits of volunteering on psychological well-being in older adulthood: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Aging and Mental Health. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/13607863.2020.1711862


  • Volunteering
  • Benefits
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Short-term effects