Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Saklofske, Donald H.

2nd Supervisor

Benson, Alex



Trait altruism reflects the tendency to perform behaviours with the goal of improving another’s welfare. Altruism is commonly measured using scales that assess how frequently the test-taker has performed specific prosocial actions. However, these scales assume that these behaviours are altruistically motivated and fail to consider what is known in the literature about the attitudes, values, and emotions that characterize altruistic individuals. Accordingly, altruism research would benefit from a new scale that draws upon the large body of interdisciplinary research and follows current best practices in scale development, as summarized in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 presents a review of the altruism literature, identifying underlying elements of trait altruism, including behaviours. Chapter 3 summarizes the development and refinement of the preliminary item pool for the new Altruistic Tendencies Questionnaire (ATQ), which incorporated feedback from three expert raters. Chapter 4 reports a study testing the preliminary psychometric properties of the altruism items in university students and North American adults. Exploratory factor analysis supported a unidimensional factor structure, and correlations with theoretically related personality traits and prosocial COVID-19 behaviours provided evidence of convergent validity. Additionally, this study demonstrated that scores on the ATQ accounted for unique variance in predicting donation intention. Chapter 5 replicated the factor structure using confirmatory factor analysis and found a similar pattern of trait correlations in a sample of adults in the U.K. Using a variant of the Dictator Game, it also demonstrated that the ATQ could predict generosity towards a charity. Finally, the study in Chapter 6 found that scores on the ATQ differed significantly between students enrolled in academic majors where one would expect to see differences on altruism (i.e., known-groups validity). This study also broadened the ATQ’s nomological network through additional correlational relationships with different personality traits than previously administered. Together, these studies provide preliminary evidence of construct validity for the ATQ, which can be used to advance the study of the altruistic personality and prosocial tendencies.

Summary for Lay Audience

Altruism refers to behaviour that is motivated by the concern for others’ welfare and not by the expectation of rewards. From the perspective of personality psychology, researchers are interested in examining how people differ in their tendencies to act selflessly. Accurately assessing these tendencies is critical to furthering our understanding of altruism. However, there is a lack of personality scales that reflect our current understanding of altruism or rigorously follow best practices in scale development. Following a review of the altruism literature in personality psychology and other disciplines, I identified several characteristics of altruistic people, considering their emotions, values, and behaviours. Based on these characteristics, I drafted a pool of 50 statements (“items”) and consulted other researchers for feedback. I then assessed the statistical properties of this initial group of items by collecting data from two large samples. Specifically, exploratory factor analysis tested which personality statements best reflected altruism. To provide evidence that my new scale measured altruistic tendencies, I also examined whether people who scored higher on altruism also tended to score higher on other prosocial personality traits—and, conversely, whether more altruistic individuals tended to score lower on socially aversive traits. Because data were collected during the COVID-19 pandemic, I also explored whether more altruistic individuals also complied more frequently with social distancing guidelines. Additionally, to see whether my altruism scale could predict generosity, I examined whether more altruistic individuals would be willing to contribute more of a gift card draw winnings to charity. In a follow-up study, I replicated this general pattern of results in a new sample. In my final study, I demonstrated that university students enrolled in different majors, such as nursing and business, were higher or lower in altruism as hypothesized. In general, the new altruism scale is a brief, well-designed tool intended to support research on altruism and prosocial tendencies.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.