Child/Adolescent Development of Prosocial Behavior

The following is an excerpt from “More about Generosity: An Addendum to the Generosity, Social Psychology and Philanthropy Literature Reviews,” (University of Notre Dame, July 7, 2009).

Barr, Jason J., and Ann Higgin-D’Alessandro. 2007. “Adolescent empathy and prosocial behavior in the multidimensional context of school culture.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 168(3):231-250.

The authors investigated whether students’ positive perceptions of their high school’s culture were associated with higher levels of empathy and prosocial behavior. The authors collected information from 2 samples to ensure a wide range of school culture perceptions. As expected, empathy and prosocial behavior were correlated. As evidence of the validity of the measure of school culture, students in a small alternative school perceived their school culture as more positive than did students in the companion large, traditional high school. More positive perceptions of school culture were associated with higher levels of empathy but not with prosocial behavior. Results were moderated by gender but not by age. Male students with higher levels of emotional concern (one aspect of empathy) perceived peer relationships (one aspect of school culture) to be more positive than did those with lower levels of emotional concern. This study highlights the importance of using multidimensional constructs for school culture and empathy to understand the effects of schooling on youth.

Barry, Carolyn McNamara, Laura M. Padilla-Walker, Stephanie J. Madsen, and Larry J. Nelson. 2008. “The impact of maternal relationship quality on emerging adults’ prosocial tendencies: Indirect effects via regulation of prosocial values.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 37(5):581-591.

Studies document that parents serve as children’s primary socialization agents, particularly for moral development and prosocial behavior; however, less is known regarding parental influences on prosocial outcomes during the transition to adulthood. The purpose of this study was to investigate how mother-child relationship quality was related to prosocial tendencies via emerging adults’ regulation of prosocial values. Participants included 228 undergraduate students (ranging from 18 to 25 years; 90% European American) and their mothers (ranging from 38 to 59 years) from four locations across the United States. Path analyses using structural equation modeling revealed that mother-child relationship quality was related to emerging adults’ regulation of prosocial values, which was, in turn, related to emerging adults’ prosocial tendencies. Specifically, emerging adults who reported higher levels of internal regulation of prosocial values were more likely to report prosocial tendencies that de-emphasized themselves, and were less likely to report prosocial tendencies for the approval of others.

Carlo, Gustavo, Meredith McGinley, Rachel Hayes, Candice Batenhorst, and Jamie Wilkinson. 2007. “Parenting styles or practices? Parenting, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors among adolescents.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 168(2):147-176.

In the present study, the authors examined the relations among parenting styles, parental practices, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors in adolescents. The participants were 233 adolescents (M age = 16.7 years; 69% girls; mostly White) from public high schools in the Midwestern region of the United States who completed measures of prosocial behaviors, parenting styles, parenting practices, and sympathy. Overall, the authors found evidence that parenting practices were significantly associated with adolescents’ prosocial behaviors. However, the associations between parenting practices and prosocial behaviors occurred mostly through the indirect relations with sympathy. The relations among parenting practices, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors varied as a function of the specific parenting practice and the specific prosocial behavior. Implications for future research on the study of prosocial development and parenting among adolescents are discussed.

Culotta, Carmen M., and Sara E. Goldstein. 2008. “Adolescents’ aggressive and prosocial behavior: Associations with jealousy and social anxiety.” Journal of Genetic Psychology, 169(1):21-33.

The authors examined how relational aggression, physical aggression, and proactive prosocial behavior were associated with jealousy and social anxiety in a diverse sample of 60 middle school students. After the authors controlled for gender and race, jealousy predicted relational aggression and proactive prosocial behavior, but it did not predict physical aggression. Additionally, social anxiety predicted proactive prosocial behavior. Adolescents who were more jealous in their peer relationships also tended to engage in relational aggression and proactive prosocial behavior, and adolescents who were more socially anxious also tended to be proactively prosocial. The authors discuss the implications of these findings and suggest directions for future research.

Dunsmore, J., I. Bradburn, P. Costanzo, and B.L. Fredrickson. 2009. “Mothers’ expressive style and emotional responses to children’s behavior predict children’s prosocial and achievement-related self-ratings.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 33(3):253-264.

In this study we investigated whether mothers’ typical expressive style and specific emotional responses to children’s behaviors are linked to children’s prosocial and competence self-ratings. Eight-to 12-year-old children and their mothers rated how mothers had felt when children behaved pro-socially and antisocially, achieved and failed to achieve. Children rated self-descriptiveness of prosocial and achievement-related traits. Mothers’ positive expressiveness was associated with children’s higher achievement-related self-ratings. Mothers’ positive- and negative-dominant expressiveness was associated with children’s lower prosocial self-ratings. Mothers’ happiness about both children’s prosocial and achievement-related behavior was associated with children’s higher self-ratings for both domains. Mothers’ anger about children’s antisocial behavior was related to children’s lower self-ratings for both domains. When mothers were higher in negative-submissive expressiveness, and responded with more sadness to children’s failure to achieve, children reported lower achievement self-ratings. Results support the importance of multidimensional assessment of self-concept and suggest that parents’ typical expressive style moderates the influence of parents’ specific emotional responses on children’s self-ratings.

Ellis, Wendy E., and Lynne Zarbatany. 2007. “Peer group status as a moderator of group influence on children’s deviant, aggressive, and prosocial behavior.” Child Development 78(4):1240-1254.

Group status was examined as a moderator of peer group socialization of deviant, aggressive, and prosocial behavior. In the fall and 3 months later, preadolescents and early adolescents provided self-reported scores for deviant behavior and group membership, and peer nominations for overt and relational aggression, prosocial behavior, and social preference. Using the social cognitive map, 116 groups were identified involving 526 children (282 girls; M age=12.05). Hierarchical linear modeling revealed that high group centrality (visibility) magnified group socialization of relational aggression, deviant behavior, and prosocial behavior, and low group acceptance magnified socialization of deviant behavior. Results suggest group influence on behavior is not uniform but depends on group status, especially group visibility within the larger peer context.

Fehr, Ernst, Helen Bernhard and Bettina Rockenbach. 2008. “Egalitarianism in young children.” Nature 454:1079-1083.

Human social interaction is strongly shaped by other-regarding preferences, that is, a concern for the welfare of others. These preferences are important for a unique aspect of human sociality—large scale cooperation with genetic strangers—but little is known about their developmental roots. Here we show that young children’s other-regarding preferences assume a particular form, inequality aversion that develops strongly between the ages of 3 and 8. At age 3–4, the overwhelming majority of children behave selfishly, whereas most children at age 7–8 prefer resource allocations that remove advantageous or disadvantageous inequality. Moreover, inequality aversion is strongly shaped by parochialism, a preference for favouring the members of one’s own social group. These results indicate that human egalitarianism and parochialism have deep developmental roots, and the simultaneous emergence of altruistic sharing and parochialism during childhood is intriguing in view of recent evolutionary theories which predict that the same evolutionary process jointly drives both human altruism and parochialism.

Fujisawa, Keiko K., Nobuyuki Kutsukake, and Toshikazu Hasegawa. 2008. “Reciprocity of prosocial behavior in Japanese preschool children.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 32(2):89-97.

This study investigated the reciprocity of prosocial behavior among 3-and 4-year-old Japanese preschool children during free-play time. Matrix correlation tests revealed positive correlations between the frequencies of object offering given and received within dyads and between the frequencies of helping given and received within dyads. These results suggest that young children reciprocate prosocial behavior spontaneously. Positive correlations were also found between the frequencies of object offering and helping behavior exchanged within dyads, suggesting that children exchanged the two types of prosocial behaviors (i.e., “interchanged”). The interchange was independent of both reciprocity within object offering and reciprocity within helping behavior in 4-year-olds. Friends reciprocated object offerings more frequently than non-friends, suggesting that friendship affects the quantitative aspect of reciprocity. These data provide refined evidence of reciprocity among children and also suggest that reciprocity becomes more complicated as children grow older.

Hastings, Paul D., Kelly E. McShane, Richard Parker, and Farriola Ladha. 2007. “Ready to make nice: parental socialization of young sons’ and daughters’ prosocial behaviors with peers.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 168(2):177-200.

In this study, the authors examined the extent to which maternal and paternal parenting styles, cognitions, and behaviors were associated with young girls’ and boys’ more compassionate (prototypically feminine) and more agentic (prototypically masculine) prosocial behaviors with peers. Parents of 133 preschool-aged children reported on their authoritative parenting style, attributions for children’s prosocial behavior, and responses to children’s prosocial behavior. Approximately 6 months later, children’s more feminine and more masculine prosocial behaviors were observed during interactions with unfamiliar peers and reported on by their preschool teachers. Boys and girls did not differ in the observed and teacher-reported measures of prosocial behavior. Compared to other parents, fathers of boys were less likely to express affection or respond directly to children’s prosocial behavior. Mothers’ authoritative style, internal attributions for prosocial behavior, and positive responses to prosocial behavior predicted girls’ displays of more feminine prosocial actions and boys’ displays of more masculine prosocial actions toward peers. Relations were similar but weaker for fathers’ parenting, and after accounting for mother’ scores, fathers’ scores accounted for unique variance in only one analysis: Teachers reported more masculine prosocial behavior in boys of fathers who discussed prosocial behavior. Overall, the results support a model of parental socialization of sex-typed prosocial behavior and indicate that mothers contribute more strongly than do fathers to both daughters’ and sons’ prosocial development.

Hur, Yoon-Mi, and J Philippe Rushton. 2007. “Genetic and environmental contributions to prosocial behaviour in 2- to 9-year-old South Korean twins.” Biology Letters 3(6):664-666.

Although over 50 twin and adoption studies have been performed on the genetic architecture of antisocial behaviour, far fewer studies have investigated prosocial behaviour, and none have done so on a non-western population. The present study examined mothers’ ratings of prosocial behaviour in 514 pairs of 2- to 9-year-old South Korean monozygotic and dizygotic twins. Correlational analyses showed a tendency of increasing genetic effects and decreasing shared environmental effects with age although shared family environment effects and the moderating effects of age did not attain statistical significance in model-fitting analyses. The best-fitting model indicated that 55% (95% CI: 45-64%) of the variance in the 2- to 9-year-olds’ prosocial behaviour was due to genetic factors and 45% (95% CI: 36-55%) was due to non-shared environmental factors. It is concluded that genetic and environmental influences on prosocial behaviour in young South Koreans are mostly similar to those in western samples.

Ma, H.K., P.C. Cheun, and D.T.L. Shek. 2007. “The relation of prosocial orientation to peer interactions, family social environment and personality of Chinese adolescents.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 31(1):12-18.

This study investigated the relation of peer interactions, family social environment and personality to prosocial orientation in Chinese adolescents. The results indicated no sex differences in general prosocial orientation and inclination to help others, but sex differences in inclination to maintain an affective relationship and inclination to co-operate and share with others. In general, prosocial orientation was associated negatively with peer negative influence and peer delinquent behavior, and positively with peer positive influence. Prosocial orientation was associated with positive family social environment. In addition, prosocial orientation was associated negatively with psychoticism and neuroticism, but positively with social desirability. The findings suggested that positive peer interactions, good family social environment and positive personality tended to increase the prosocial orientation of adolescents. From the perspective of the theory of planned behavior, the present findings in prosocial orientation were in line with similar findings in prosocial behavior in previous studies. Uses of the construct of prosocial orientation and implications of its correlates were discussed.

Malti, Tina, Michaela Gummerum, Monika Keller, Marlis Buchmann. 2009. “Children’s moral motivation, sympathy, and prosocial behavior.” Child Development 80(2):442-460.

Two studies investigated the role of children’s moral motivation and sympathy in prosocial behavior. Study 1 measured other-reported prosocial behavior and self- and other-reported sympathy. Moral motivation was assessed by emotion attributions and moral reasoning following hypothetical transgressions in a representative longitudinal sample of Swiss 6-year-old children (N = 1,273). Prosocial behavior increased with increasing sympathy, especially if children displayed low moral motivation. Moral motivation and sympathy were also independently related to prosocial behavior. Study 2 extended the findings of Study 1 with a second longitudinal sample of Swiss 6-year-old children (N = 175) using supplementary measures of prosocial behavior, sympathy, and moral motivation. The results are discussed in regard to the precursors of the moral self in childhood.

Martin, Don, Magy Martin, Suzanne Semivan Gibson, and Jonathan Wilkins. 2007. “Increasing prosocial behavior and academic achievement among adolescent African American males.” Adolescence 42(168):689-698.

African American adolescents disproportionately perform poorly compared to peers in both behavioral and academic aspects of their educational experience. In this study, African American male students participated in an after-school program involving tutoring, group counseling, and various enrichment activities. All students were assessed regarding their behavioral changes using attendance, discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions reports. The Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (KBIT) and the Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KTEA) were used to assess the adolescents’ improvement in their skills in reading and mathematics. After the end of the two-year program, initial results showed that the adolescents had increased their daily attendance, decreased discipline referrals, and had no suspensions or expulsions. These results also indicated that although the students entered the program at different skill levels, they were assessed to have the ability to function at their appropriate grade level. Their average improvement in basic skills was at least two grade levels. Implications drawn from the findings include: (a) there is a need to emphasize appropriate assessment prior to beginning a skill improvement program; (b) a need to emphasize the use of individualized learning plans and tutors; and © a need to further investigate the role of assessment and intervention in after-school programming in order to close the achievement gap.

McGrath, Marianne P., and Bethany C. Brown. 2008. “Developmental differences in prosocial motives and behavior in children from low-socioeconomic status families.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 169:5-20.

Developmental theories of prosocial reasoning and behavior posit a transition from concrete (e.g., give a toy to receive one) to abstract (e.g., spend time to make someone happy) forms and have been supported with research on middle-socioeconomic status (SES), White samples. The methodology that researchers have used to date has restricted the responses that children can offer. In the present study, 122 Grade 2 and Grade 4 children from low-SES families described different types of motives and behavior and whether a conflict existed between self- and other-serving behaviors. The authors found developmental differences for both abstract and tangible motives that focused on the benefactor of prosocial behavior. Grade 2 girls and Grade 4 boys were the most likely to spontaneously describe a conflict between self- and other-serving behaviors.

Michalik, Nicole M., Nancy Eisenberg, Tracy L. Spinrad, Becky Ladd, Marilyn Thompson, and Carlos Valinte. “Longitudinal Relations Among Parental Emotional Expressivity and Sympathy and Prosocial Behavior in Adolescence.” Social Development 16:286-309.

Concurrent and longitudinal relations among parental emotional expressivity, children’s sympathy and children’s prosocial behavior were assessed with correlations and structural equation modeling when the children were 55–97 months old (N = 214; M age = 73 months, SD = 9.59) and eight years later (N = 130; ages 150–195 months old, M = 171 months, SD = 10.01). Parent emotional expressivity (positive and negative) and children’s sympathy were stable across time and early parent-reported sympathy predicted adolescents’ sympathy and prosocial behavior. Parents’ positive expressivity was positively related to sympathy and prosocial behavior, but in adolescence, this was likely primarily because of consistency over time. Early observed parental negative expressivity was negatively related to adolescents’ prosocial behavior. Reported negative expressivity in childhood was negatively related to boys’ sympathy in childhood and positively related to girls’ sympathy behavior in adolescence. The later relation remained significant when controlling for the stability of parental expressivity and sympathy, suggesting an emerging positive relation between the variables for girls.

Nantel-Vivier, Amelie; Katja Kokko, Gian Vittorio Caprara, Concetta Pastorelli, Maria Grazia Gerbino, Marinella Paciello, Sylvana Cote, Robert O. Pihl, Frank Vitaro, and Richard E. Tremblay. 2009. “Prosocial development from childhood to adolescence: A multi-informant perspective with Canadian and Italian longitudinal studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 50:590-598.

Objectives: To longitudinally describe prosocial behaviour development from childhood to adolescence, using multiple informants within Canadian and Italian samples. Method: Participants in Study 1 were 1037 boys from low socioeconomic status (SES) areas in Montreal, Canada, for whom yearly teacher and mother reports were obtained between the ages of 10 and 15. Participants in Study 2 were 472 children (209 girls) from Genzano, Italy, for whom yearly self and teacher reports were obtained between the ages of 10 and 14. Developmental trajectories were estimated from ratings by each informant to identify subgroups of children following distinct courses of prosocial development. Results: In Study 1, three trajectory groups (low/declining 53%, high/declining 16%, high/steep declining 31%) were identified from teacher ratings, while five trajectories (low/stable 7%, low/declining 19%, moderate/stable 41%, high/declining 24%, high/stable 9%) were identified from mother ratings. Small but significant associations were observed between mother and teacher ratings. In Study 2, three trajectory groups (low/stable 9%, moderate/stable 50%, high/stable 42%) were identified from self-ratings, while four trajectory groups (low/stable 8%, moderate/declining 48%, high/declining 37%, increasing 7%) were identified from teacher ratings. Small but significant associations were observed between self- and teacher ratings. Conclusions: The present studies investigated levels of prosocial behaviours from childhood to adolescence, using a multi-informant, cross-cultural perspective. All but one of the developmental trajectories identified were characterised by stable or declining levels of prosocial behaviours. Further research longitudinally investigating prosociality across developmental periods is needed to clarify prosocial behaviour development over time

Olson, Kristina R., and Elizabeth S. Spelke. 2008. “Foundations of cooperation in young children.” Cognition 108: 222-231.

Observations and experiments show that human adults preferentially share resources with close relations, with people who have shared with them (reciprocity), and with people who have shared with others (indirect reciprocity). These tendencies are consistent with evolutionary theory but could also reflect the shaping effects of experience or instruction in complex, cooperative, and competitive societies. Here, we report evidence for these three tendencies in 3.5-year-old children, despite their limited experience with complex cooperative networks. Three pillars of mature cooperative behavior therefore appear to have roots extending deep into human development.

Trommsdorff, G., W. Friedlmeier, and B. Mayer. 2007. “Sympathy, distress, and prosocial behavior of preschool children in four cultures.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 31:284-293.

This study examined emotional responding (sympathy and distress) and prosocial behavior as well as their relations across four cultures in a specific context. Preschool children ( N = 212) from two Western cultures, Germany and Israel, and two South-East Asian cultures, Indonesia and Malaysia, participated in this study. Children’s emotional reactions and prosocial behavior were observed when interacting with an adult in a quasi-experimental situation. Results showed that children from the two South-East Asian cultures, as compared to children from the two Western cultures, displayed more self-focused distress and less prosocial behavior. Across cultures, a positive relation between sympathy and prosocial behavior and a negative relation between self-focused distress and prosocial behavior were found. The strengths of these relations were moderated by culture. These results are discussed with regard to their cultural meaning in the specific experimental situation as well as to general culture-specific characteristics.

Vaish, Amrisha, Malinda Carpenter, and Michael Tomasello. 2009. “Sympathy through affective perspective taking and its relation to prosocial behavior in toddlers.” Developmental Psychology 45:534-543.

In most research on the early ontogeny of sympathy, young children are presented with an overtly distressed person and their responses are observed. In the current study, the authors asked whether young children could also sympathize with a person to whom something negative had happened but who was expressing no emotion at all. They showed 18- and 25-month-olds an adult either harming another adult by destroying or taking away her possessions (harm condition) or else doing something similar that did not harm her (neutral condition). The “victim” expressed no emotions in either condition. Nevertheless, in the harm as compared with the neutral condition, children showed more concern and subsequent prosocial behavior toward the victim. Moreover, children’s concerned looks during the harmful event were positively correlated with their subsequent prosocial behavior. Very young children can sympathize with a victim even in the absence of overt emotional signals, possibly by some form of affective perspective taking.

Van de Vliert, Evert, Gerben S. Van der Vegt, Onne Janssen. 2009. “Prosocial to Egoistic Enculturation of Our Children: A Climato-Economic Contextualization.” Negotiation and Conflict Management Research 2:123-137.

Are altruistic, cooperative, apathetic, and egoistic cultures passed on from generation to generation in nongenetic ways? A society-level analysis of data from the most recent World Values Surveys showed that adults in increasingly demanding cold or hot climates value cooperative enculturation of children to the extent that their society is richer, but egoistic enculturation to the extent that their society is poorer. These results refine the climatic demands–resources theory of prosociality, which posits that (a) humans in more demanding—colder or hotter—climates find it more difficult to satisfy homeostatic needs for thermal comfort, nutrition, and health; (b) increasingly demanding climates matched by wealth-based resources and availability of homeostatic goods produce more prosocial cultures; and © increasingly demanding climates unmatched by wealth-based resources and availability of homeostatic goods produce less prosocial cultures.

Veenstra, R., S. Lindenberg, A.J. Oldehinkel, A.F. DeWinter, F.C. Verhulst, and J. Ormel. 2008. “Prosocial and antisocial behavior in preadolescence: Teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of the behavior of girls and boys.” Journal of Behavioral Development 32:243-251.

There has been recent emphasis on the importance of investigating prosocial and antisocial behavior simultaneously owing to doubts about whether examining one automatically gives information about the other. However, there has been little empirical research into this question. The present study (based on a large population sample of preadolescents, N = 2,230) simultaneously examines prosocial and antisocial behavior, explicitly including the possibility that children might show prosocial behavior according to one informant and antisocial behavior according to another. When parents and teachers agreed in their judgments, children were distinctly profiled and differed clearly in effortful control, intelligence, academic performance, and several peer nominations and family characteristics. The correlates were more rater-specific for children that were prosocial according to one informant and antisocial according to the other informant. Teachers and parents used different context-dependent criteria for judging children to be prosocial or antisocial. Academic performance and peer relations were related to the teacher’s judgment of prosocial and antisocial behavior. By contrast, children’s being problematic at home (and thus causing stress for the parents) was related to the parents’ judgment.

Wentzel, Kathryn R., Laurence Filisetti, and Lisa Looey. 2007. “Adolescent prosocial behavior: the role of self-processes and contextual cues.” Child Development 78:895-910.

Peer- and teacher-reported prosocial behavior of 339 6th-grade (11-12 years) and 8th-grade (13-14 years) students was examined in relation to prosocial goals, self-processes (reasons for behavior, empathy, perspective taking, depressive affect, perceived competence), and contextual cues (expectations of peers and teachers). Goal pursuit significantly predicted prosocial behavior, and goal pursuit provided a pathway by which reasons for behavior were related to behavior. Reasons reflected external, other-focused, self-focused, and internal justifications for behavior; each reason was related to a unique set of self-processes and contextual cues. Associations between prosocial outcomes and sex and race (Caucasian and African American) were mediated in part by self-processes and contextual cues. The implications of studying prosocial behavior from a motivational perspective are discussed.