When good overcomes bad: The impact of volunteers on those they help

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This qualitative study examines the impact of a personal encounter with perceived goodness, as represented by volunteers who are perceived as altruistic by those they help. It focuses on the encounter between at-risk street youths and lay volunteers in a mobile outreach service. The findings reveal that the street youths perceived the volunteers as representing pure altruism, and this stimulated several positive processes. Meeting the volunteers raised their awareness of giving without expecting a reward, which sharply contradicts their view of the world as a battlefield. Consequently, they understood and partially internalized the idea of non-material gratification. In some cases, the example set by the volunteers inspired the young people to consider volunteering themselves. Finally, they were able to generalize the altruistic image to the entire service and overcome their initial objections to a service run by the establishment. The proposed explanation, related to positive psychology, refers to the contrast between the example of the volunteers and the self centeredness of the street youths, which shifted slightly as a result.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1133-1153
Number of pages21
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Adolescents at-risk
  • Altruism
  • Goodness
  • Mental health & therapy
  • Self-centeredness
  • Volunteers


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