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Prosocial Development
Psychoanalytic Theory 648
Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory 649
Cognitive Developmental Theory 649
Current Conceptual Emphases: Positive Psychology and
Positive Youth Development 650
Evolutionary Explanations 651
Heritability of Prosocial Tendencies 652
Neurophysiological Underpinnings of Prosocial
Responding 653
Theory 654
Empirical Studies of the Development of
Prosocial Behavior 655
Moderators of Age Trends across Childhood
and Adolescence 658
Processes Potentially Related to Changes with Age in
Prosocial Responding 659
Laboratory or Adult- and Self-Report Studies 662
Naturalistic Observational Research 663
Moral Reasoning, Values, and Beliefs about
Social Responsibility 664
Demographic Features of Families and
Family Members 665
Parental Socialization Style and Practices 666
Other Familial and Extrafamilial Inf luences 678
Intelligence, Cognitive Capacities, and
Academic Achievement 683
Perspective Taking and Understanding of Emotion 683
Person Attributions and Expressed Motives 685
Moral Reasoning 685
Consistency of Prosocial Behavior 688
Sociability and Shyness 689
Social Competence and Socially Appropriate Behavior 689
Aggression and Externalizing Problems 690
Assertiveness and Dominance 691
Self-Esteem and Related Constructs 691
Values and Goals 692
Religiosity 692
Regulation 693
Emotionality 694
Methodological Issues 700
Conceptual and Content-Related Directions 701
Writing of this chapter was supported by a grant from the Na-
tional Institute of Mental Health to Nancy Eisenberg and
Tracy Spinrad and by grants from the National Science Foun-
dation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Prosocial behaviorvoluntary behavior intended to ben-
efit anotheris of obvious importance to the quality of
interactions between individuals and among groups.
However, scientists did not devote much attention to
prosocial development prior to 1970, perhaps because
Development to Richard A. Fabes. Appreciation also is ex-
pressed to Carolyn Zahn-Waxler for comments on earlier
drafts of this manuscript.
the consequences of aggression, criminality, and im-
morality had greater salience for society.
Prosocial behaviors may be performed for a host of
reasons including egoistic, other-oriented, or practical
concerns (Boxer, Tisak, & Goldstein, 2004; Eisenberg,
1986). Of particular importance is the subgroup of
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Philosophical Roots of Prosocial Behavior 647
prosocial behaviors labeled altruism. A common defini-
tion of altruism is intrinsically motivated voluntary be-
havior intended to benefit another acts motivated by
concern for others or by internalized values, goals, and
self-rewards rather than by the expectation of concrete
or social rewards or the avoidance of punishment (Eisen-
berg & Mussen, 1989). However, because it usually is
impossible to differentiate between altruistically moti-
vated actions and actions motivated by less noble con-
cerns, it is necessary to focus on the broader domain of
prosocial behaviors.
Emotion plays a particularly important role in the de-
velopment of prosocial values, motives, and behaviors.
Especially relevant are empathy-related emotions. Defi-
nitions of empathy vary; we define it as an affective
response that stems from the apprehension or compre-
hension of anothers emotional state or condition, and
which is identical or very similar to what the other per-
son is feeling or would be expected to feel.
It is necessary to differentiate empathy from re-
lated vicarious emotional responses, particularly
sympathy and personal distress. Sympathy is an affec-
tive response that frequently stems from empathy, but
can derive directly from perspective taking or other
cognitive processing including retrieval of informa-
tion from memory. It consists of feeling sorrow or
concern for the distressed or needy other (rather than
feeling the same emotion as the other person is expe-
riencing or is expected to experience). Personal dis-
tress also frequently stems from exposure to anothers
state or condition; however, it is a self-focused, aver-
sive emotional reaction to the vicarious experiencing
of anothers emotion (e.g., discomfort , anxiety; see
Batson, 1991; Eisenberg, Shea, Carlo, & Knight ,
1991). As discussed later, empathy and sympathy
have been strongly implicated in prosocial develop-
ment and action. Thus, these vicarious emotional re-
actions are discussed to some degree throughout the
In the initial sections of this chapter, we brief ly
discuss philosophical perspectives on prosocial devel-
opment , as well as several grand psychological theo-
ries that have inf luenced the field. Then the empirical
literature related to prosocial responding in children
is reviewed. Because there have been few recent stud-
ies on the role of situational factors such as cost and
benefits, situational skills, or mood inductions on
prosocial behavior, these topics are not reviewed (see
Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998, for a review). In the final
sections of the chapter, a model for integrating the
factors believed to relate to prosocial responding is
presented brief ly, and gaps in the field and future di-
rections are discussed.
In this chapter, we review many of the major topics
in the literature on prosocial development. Due to
space constraints, we have sometimes built on previ-
ously published reviews. We generally have empha-
sized topics of central importance to prosocial
development and issues that have emerged in the past
decade or two. Further, we have confined our coverage
to a somewhat narrow definition of prosocial respond-
ing. For example, the literature on cooperation, the
personality trait of agreeableness, or the allocation of
rewards generally is not emphasized, although some in-
vestigators of prosocial behavior included cooperation
as well as other types of prosocial behavior in their
index of prosociality (in these cases, we sometimes
have included the study with other citations, but often
refer to it in listings under also see . . .). Again due to
space limitations, we often cite the more recent studies
when there are numerous reports pertaining to a given
issue. Interested readers can refer to the earlier version
of this chapter in the fifth edition of this Handbook
(1998) to obtain additional citations, especially refer-
ences prior to 1990.
Philosophical concepts of prosocial behavior and sym-
pathy often have their roots in religious doctrine. The
commandment Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy-
self is a basic tenet in Judaism and Christianity. Simi-
larly, the parable of the Good Samaritan, who pitied
and helped an injured man (Luke 10:2937), often is
cited as an example for Christians. In Buddhism, the via
positiva outlines the virtues necessary to reach Nirvana
(ultimate happiness), including dana (giving), metta
( kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), and karuna
Given the influence of religion in philosophy, it is not
surprising that philosophers have discussed the origins
of prosocial and moral behaviors for centuries. Of par-
ticular relevance, philosophers have debated whether
any human action is truly unselfish and, relatedly, the
doctrine of ethical egoism (i.e., whether it is unreason-
able to behave in a manner contrary to ones own self-
interest). According to Thomas Hobbes (1651/1962), a
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648 Prosocial Development
vocal advocate of egoism and self-love, selfishness
might produce helping, but the motivation for such
prosocial action would primarily be to relieve the
helpers own distress. He also believed that the only mo-
tivation for cooperative action lay in the fear of some
outside agent.
Later philosophers began to refute the doctrine of
ethical egoism. Rousseau (1773/1962) believed that
human nature was basically good and that humans have
an innate sensitivity toward others. In his view, if indi-
viduals were able to develop this natural state of nobility
and sensitivity, a strong sense of moral obligation to
others and concern for the common good would develop.
He believed society corrupts this innate moral nature.
Kant (1785/1956) also refuted the doctrine of ethical
egoism and argued that if an action is ones duty, that is
reason enough to do it, independent of ones own inter-
ests. According to Kant, prosocial and moral behavior
and values involve ones will and self-control, and stem
from universal, impartial principles that are totally de-
tached from emotion.
Nagel (1970) differentiated between pure rational al-
truism and behavior motivated by sympathy, love, or
other emotions. In his view, the involvement of affect in
the helping process tainted its purity. In contrast, David
Hume (1748/1975) argued that moral emotions such as
sympathy, benevolence, and concern for humanity are
fundamental incentives of human action and that proso-
cial behaviors often are based on these incentives. Sus-
ceptibility to sympathy and empathy was viewed as an
innate human propensity. Similarly, sympathy and re-
lated affective responses were core elements of A.
Smiths (1759/1982) moral and social system. Smith be-
lieved that sympathy was an innate endowment, insti-
gated by the perception of others conditions and the
desire to see them happy for purely altruistic reasons.
For Smith, sympathy was not solely a primitive aware-
ness of others suffering; it was a complex capacity in-
fluenced by awareness of aspects of the situation or the
person involved.
Lawrence Blum (1980) has been particularly vocal in
refuting some of Kants ideas about the role of emotion
in morality. He pointed out that rational processes do
not always produce moral action and that the sense of
duty (viewed by Kant as rational) is no more immune to
the distorting and weakening effects of personal feel-
ings than is sympathy for another. Blum further sug-
gested that because emotions such as sympathy and
empathy promote perspective taking and understanding
of others, they sometimes produce rationality and may,
in addition, induce more and higher quality prosocial
behavior than does rationality. Similarly, Slote (2001,
2004) argued that caring is a true virtue that is involved
in moral judgment and that empathy is essential to the
development of morally based caring about others. Re-
latedly, current writings on altruistic (or compassion-
ate) love (which correlates with sympathy; L.G.
Underwood, 2001) and agape (altruistic love universal-
ized to all humanity; Post, 2001) in theology and philos-
ophy are relevant to the notions of selfless love and to
extending caring to people outside ones ingroup.
In summary, philosophers have viewed people as pri-
marily egoistic, primarily noble and generous, or some-
where in between. Philosophical debate about the nature
and existence of altruism is alive and well in contempo-
rary psychology, particularly in social (e.g., Batson &
Powell, 2003) and evolutionary (Konner, 2002) psychol-
ogy. However, it is often difficult to discriminate peo-
ples motives and conceptions of their prosocial
behavior. Thus, philosophical concerns are not highly
salient in developmental work and are reflected primar-
ily in work on moral judgment influenced by cognitive
developmental theory.
As might be expected, the grand theories that have had
considerable influence on developmental psychology
have affected thinking about prosocial development,
particularly in the past. Thus, pertinent ideas in psycho-
analytic theory, behaviorism and social learning theory,
and cognitive developmental theory are discussed
briefly. In addition, recent work on prosocial behavior
has been influenced by minitheories such as Hoffmans
theoretical contributions to understanding empathy
(1982, 2000) and socialization (1970, 1983) and
Grusecs (e.g., Grusec & Goodnow, 1994) and Staubs
(1979, 1992, 2003) thinking about socialization. Some
of these conceptual frameworks are referred to briefly
later in this chapter.
Psychoanalytic Theory
In Freuds psychoanalytic theory, children are born with
innate, irrational sexual and aggressive impulses di-
rected toward self-gratification (the id). They develop a
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Psychological Theories 649
conscience (superego) at about age 4 to 6 years as a
means of resolving the conflict between their own hos-
tile and sexual impulses and their fears of parental hos-
tility or the loss of parental love. The superego is the
outcome of the process of identification, by which chil-
dren internalize their same-sex parents values and in-
troject these values. Once children develop a superego,
they may behave prosocially to avoid the guilt inflicted
by the conscience for not doing so or based on the inter-
nalization of values consistent with prosocial behavior
(e.g., Freud, 1933/1968). In many versions of psychoan-
alytic theory, guilt, self-destructive tendencies, and sex-
ual strivings underlie altruism (Fenichel, 1945; Glover,
1968). Prosocial actions often are defense mechanisms
used by the ego (the rational part of personality) to deal
with the irrational demands of the superego.
However, Freud and other psychoanalysts sometimes
have acknowledged more positive roots of altruism.
Freud (1930) asserted, Individual development seems
to us a product of the interplay of two trends, the striv-
ing for happiness, generally called egoistic, and the
impulse toward merging with others in the community,
which we call altruistic (1930, p. 134). Other theo-
rists such as Ekstein (1978) have built on Freuds em-
phasis on the importance of the early mother-child
relationship for the development of empathy, identifica-
tion, and internalization.
Perhaps the greatest contribution of psychoanalytic
work to theory on prosocial responding is the construct
of identification. Social learning theorists in the 1960s
and 1970s adapted this construct to refer to childrens
internalization of parents norms, values, and standards
as a consequence of a positive parent-child relationship
(e.g., Hoffman, 1970). This theoretical perspective had
a significant impact on the early work on the socializa-
tion of altruism.
Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory
Early behaviorists posited that children learn primarily
through mechanisms such as conditioning. This per-
spective is reflected in some of the relatively early work
on the role of reinforcement and punishment in promot-
ing prosocial behavior (e.g., Hartmann et al., 1976) and
in work concerning the development of empathy through
conditioning (Aronfreed, 1970).
Social learning theorists allowed internal cognitive
processes to play a greater role. For example, contingen-
cies need not actually occur; people can vicariously
learn the likely consequences of a behavior through ob-
servation and verbal behavior. Imitation is viewed as a
critical process in the socialization of moral behavior
and standards (Bandura, 1986).
In current cognitive social learning theory, the inter-
play of cognition and environmental influences in moral
development is complex. According to Bandura (1986;
also see Hoffman, 2000), moral rules or standards of be-
havior are fashioned from information from a variety of
sources such as intuition, others evaluative social reac-
tions, and models. Based on experience, people learn
what factors are morally relevant and how much value to
attach to each one. Socializers provide information
about behavioral alternatives, expectations, and possible
contingencies for different courses of action; model
moral behaviors; reinforce and punish children for vari-
ous actions; and influence the development of self-
evaluative reactions (e.g., guilt). Moreover, thought,
behavior, and environmental events all interact and in-
fluence one another, and the individuals attentional and
regulatory processes play a role in the learning of moral
behavior. Moral and prosocial functioning are thought to
be governed by self-reactive responses (e.g., self
processes such as self-sanctions, personal agency) and
other self-regulatory processes rather than by dispas-
sionate abstract reasoning (Bandura, 2002). Addition-
ally, the regulation of affect has an important influence
on prosocial behavior. Support for this argument has
been found: Perceived self-efficacy in the regulation of
positive affect was related to perceptions of empathic
efficacy, which in turn were related to prosocial behav-
ior (Bandura, Caprara, Barbaranelli, Gerbino, & Pas-
torelli, 2003). Thus, perceived self-efficacy to manage
basic affective states plays a pivotal role in the causal
processes determining the likelihood of empathic re-
sponding and prosocial behavior.
Cognitive Developmental Theory
The cognitive developmental perspective on morality, as
represented by the work of Piaget (e.g., 1932/1965) and
Kohlberg (e.g., 1969, 1984), concerns primarily the de-
velopment of moral reasoning and other social cognitive
processes rather than moral behavior. Kohlberg de-
scribed moral development as an invariant, universal,
and hierarchical sequence of stages progressing as a
function of sociocognitive development (e.g., perspec-
tive taking). Kohlberg emphasized the contributions of
cognition, particularly perspective taking, to morality
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and minimized ( but did not fully neglect) the contribu-
tions of emotion and socialization (Kohlberg, 1969).
Moreover, because of Piagets and Kohlbergs assump-
tion that young children have limited perspective-taking
abilities, investigators influenced by cognitive develop-
mental work assumed for years that other-oriented
prosocial behavior was not likely to emerge until the
early school years.
The cognitive developmental perspective is discussed
by Turiel (Chapter 13, this Handbook, this volume). Its
primary relevance for this chapter is that Kohlbergs
theory influenced Eisenbergs (e.g., Eisenberg, 1986)
work on prosocial moral reasoning. However, although
Eisenberg views sociocognitive development as playing
an important role in the development of prosocial moral
reasoning, she does not view all stages of prosocial rea-
soning (especially the higher ones) as universal or as in-
volving the hierarchical integration of lower stages.
Rather, environmental and emotional factors are be-
lieved to play a considerable role in the development and
use of prosocial moral reasoning. Thus, Eisenbergs con-
ception of moral reasoning differs considerably from the
traditional cognitive developmental perspective.
Current Conceptual Emphases: Positive
Psychology and Positive Youth Development
Positive psychology and positive youth psychology are
not fully developed theories, but perspectives that re-
cently have influenced the study of prosocial behavior.
Although prosocial behavior was a popular topic of
study in the 1970s and early 1980s, interest declined in
the late 1980s and the 1990s. Since the late 1990s, there
has been a resurgence of interest in the positive aspects
of human development, spurred by the positive psychol-
ogy movement. This movement is an effort to counteract
the focus on negative aspects of psychological function-
ing (e.g., problems with psychological adjustment) and
highlight human strengths. As summarized by Seligman
and Csikszentmihalyi (2000), the field of positive psy-
chology concerns subjective experiences (e.g., well-
being, optimism), positive personal traits (e.g., the
capacity for love, interpersonal skills, forgiveness, wis-
dom), and civic virtues and the institutions that move
individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility,
nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance,
and work ethnic (p. 1). Similarly, the positive youth de-
velopment perspective is a strength-based conception of
adolescence that highlights plasticity in development
and the potential for systematic change in
behavior . . . as a consequence of mutually influential
relationships between the development person and his or
her biology, psychological characteristics, family, com-
munity, culture, physicial and designed ecology, and his-
torical niche (Lerner et al., 2005, p. 13; also see
Lerner, Dowling, & Anderson, 2003).
Although prosocial behavior has not been a primary
topic of interest for those researchers most associated
with the positive psychology movement, some psycholo-
gists (Aspinwall & Staudinger, 2003a; Eisenberg & Ota
Wang, 2003) have argued that interpersonal and rela-
tional strengths such as sympathy, compassion, coopera-
tion, tolerance, and altruism are important topics of
investigation for those investigators concerned with pos-
itive psychological development. In fact, prosocial and
empathic development are discussed in some books on
positive psychology (e.g., Aspinwall & Staudinger,
2003b; Lopez & Snyder, 2003), and the positive psy-
chology movement has stimulated renewed interest in
prosocial behavior and sympathy by including the topic
in various books and conferences. Similarly, caring is
viewed as one of five components of positive youth de-
velopment (along with competence, confidence, connec-
tion, and character); thus, some relevant research
contains measures of sympathy or related constructs
(e.g., Lerner et al., 2005).
Now that the conceptual roots of work on prosocial
responding have been reviewed briefly, we turn to the
review of the empirical literature. We first examine the-
ory and empirical work on developmental trends in
prosocial responding, followed by discussion of the po-
tential origins of prosocial behavior ( biological, cul-
tural, and socialization). Next we consider the
sociocognitive, empathy-related, dispositional, and situ-
ational correlates of prosocial behavior. In the final sec-
tions, age and sex differences in prosocial behavior are
In examining the major theoretical and empirical ap-
proaches to understanding the determinants of prosocial
behaviors, most efforts have been directed at identifying
the situational, social, and individual factors that affect
the degree to which prosocial behavior is learned and
enhanced (see M.S. Clark, 1991; Eisenberg, 1986, for
reviews and examples). Relatively little of the empirical
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Biological Determinants of Prosocial Behavior 651
work on prosocial behavior has focused on the genetic
and neurohormonal substrates of such behavior. The
lack of empirical work is somewhat surprising given the
attention that genetic, evolutionary, and neurohormonal
factors have received in the literature on antisocial, ag-
gressive, and criminal behavior (see Ellis & Hoffman,
1990). As noted by Eisenberg, Fabes, and Miller (1990),
some of the biological factors that affect antisocial be-
havior are also likely to account for variations in proso-
cial behavior and therefore warrant consideration in any
major review of prosocial behavior and development.
Evolutionary Explanations
Prosocial actions such as helping and sharing have fre-
quently been noted among nonhuman animals (e.g.,
E. O. Wilson, 1975, 1978). Various social insects (such
as certain honeybees, ants, and wasps) frequently sacri-
fice their own lives while defending their hives or nests
from intruders. Similarly, some birds give off a warning
call that informs other birds of a predators presence.
The call, however, occasionally helps predators locate
the call giver, thereby resulting in its capture and death.
Sharing and cooperation also have been observed
among nonhuman animals (Trivers, 1971; Wilson,
1975), as have consoling behaviors and empathy among
chimpanzees (Preston & de Waal, 2002). Van Lawick-
Goodall (1968) reported that chimpanzees often hand
over portions of their catch to other chimpanzees who
beg for food. Similarly, certain wild African dogs that
live in packs share the prey they catch with members of
the pack who stay behind to guard the pups. Common to
all these examples is that in some way one animal has im-
proved the chances of one or more animals reaching some
sort of goal (protection, feeding, care of young, etc.).
Explanations have been proposed to explain the
prosocial actions of animals. Wilson (1975, 1978) and
others (e.g., Barash, 1977) have advanced the notion of
kin selection, which is a broadened view of natural selec-
tion. They argue that through self-sacrificing or cooper-
ative actions, the prosocial animal increases the
probability that its relatives, who share its genes, will
survive and reproduce. Thus, even if the prosocial ani-
mal dies, its genes will be passed on to the next genera-
tion by its surviving relatives. The genes selected for by
evolution contribute to their own perpetuation, regard-
less of the individual carrying the animals genes.
The percentage of shared or common genes is hypoth-
esized to be an important determinant of altruism dis-
played among species membersmore altruism would
be expected to be directed toward more closely related
kin than toward distant kin or those who are unrelated
(Hastings, Zahn-Waxler, & McShane, 2005). Thus, for
kin selection to be effective (in an evolutionary sense),
altruists must be able to distinguish between individuals
who are their kin and those who are not. Rushton and as-
sociates (Rushton, Russell, & Well, 1984) proposed that
that there is an innate ability to recognize someone who
is genetically similar. Evidence from the study of a wide
variety of species supports the conclusion that certain
animals may be genetically programmed to identify
their own kin (Alberts, 1976; Leon, 1983). Evidence for
a similar genetic predisposition in humans is much less
clear-cut (Fabes & Filsinger, 1988). There is, however,
evidence that humans are more willing to assist others
who are genetically related to themselves (Bar-Tal, Bar-
Zohar, Greenberg, & Hermon, 1977) and that the degree
of biological relatedness is positively associated with
willingness to help (Cunningham, 1985/1986). In addi-
tion, the more valuable the helpful act is, the more likely
it is to come from kin (Borgida, Conner, & Manteufel,
1992; Essock-Vitale & McGuire, 1985). People also are
likely to seek out and assist others who are similar to
themselves (Eisenberg, 1983; Rushton et al., 1984). Be-
cause individuals who share proximity and who are
physically similar are likely to share more genes than
dissimilar others, the predisposition to help others who
are similar may enhance the survival of persons likely to
share genes with the altruist.
In many species (including humans), prosocial be-
havior also is extended toward nonrelatives. Hall and
DeVore (1965) described the tendency for baboons to
form alliances and fight as a unit in aggressive encoun-
ters. Female bluebirds occasionally provide foster par-
enting to young birds deserted by their mothers (Hayes,
Felton, & Cohen, 1985).
Trivers (1971, 1983) uses the term reciprocal altru-
ism to explain instances of prosocial behavior that are
directed to recipients so distantly related to the organ-
ism performing the altruistic act that kin selection can
be ruled out. Trivers argues that under certain condi-
tions natural selection favors these altruistic behaviors
because in the long run they benefit the organism per-
forming them. Cleaning symbiosis is a case in point.
Both host and cleaner benefit from the relationship
(e.g., the host is cleaned of parasites and the cleaner is
fed and sometimes protected). There also apparently
has been selection for the host to avoid eating ones
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652 Prosocial Development
cleaner (Trivers, 1971). These behaviors cannot be ex-
plained by kin selection because they are performed by
members of one species for the benefit of members of
another species.
Another evolutionary explanation of prosocial behav-
ior is that of group selection (Wynne-Edwards, 1962).
According to this view, altruism among group members
may benefit the survival of the group. Thus, groups with
altruistic members are less likely to become extinct than
groups comprised of nonaltruistic members. This per-
spective, however, has not received strong support
(Boorman & Leavitt, 1980). Group selection works
very slowly and it would take an exceedingly long time
for an entire group to become extinct. In the short run,
selfish members would have a competitive edge over al-
truistic members (Krebs & Miller, 1985). Altruistic
members would thus die out long before the group does.
Thus, the forces underlying group selection do not ap-
pear compatible with the evolution of a group with al-
truistic members.
In summary, evolutionary perspectives on prosocial
behavior suggest that these behaviors result from evolu-
tionary forces (Sober & Wilson, 1998). Prosocial behav-
iors may have been selected because they (a) increase
individuals survival to reproductive age, ( b) increase
the reproductive capacity of the individual, and (c) in-
crease either or both of these tendencies in other mem-
bers of the species that likely carry the same genes.
Inherent in this argument is that evolutionary forces fa-
voring altruistic behaviors often come into conflict with
those forces that favor behaviors maximizing the sur-
vival of the individual. Out of this complex interplay of
competing forces comes the potential to act prosocially
and to account for individual differences in prosocial re-
sponding (Hofer, 1981).
Heritability of Prosocial Tendencies
Twin studies have been used to examine the genetic con-
tribution to individual differences in prosocial respond-
ing. In these studies, if the correlation between scores
on prosocial responding is higher for identical twins
than for fraternal twins, the difference is attributed to
genetic effects to the degree that common environmen-
tal sources are assumed to be roughly equal for the two
types of twins.
In twin studies involving adults self-reports of
prosocial tendencies, researchers have found that ge-
netic factors accounted for between 40% and 70% of the
variance in twins altruism, empathy, and nurturance
(Hastings et al., in press). Most of the remaining vari-
ance was accounted for by idiosyncratic differences in
the environments of the twins rather than by their shared
environment (Rushton, Fulker, Neale, Nias, & Eysenck,
1986; also see Davis, Luce, & Kraus, 1994), although in
one study of adults, the variance in prosocial behavior
was linked primarily to shared and nonshared environ-
ment (Krueger, Hicks, & McGue, 2001). It is likely that
the common shared variance decreases with age (Scarr
& McCartney, 1983; Scourfield, John, Martin, &
McGuffin, 2004).
W. Johnson and Krueger (2004) examined the heri-
tability of middle-aged adults personality traits that
likely relate to prosocial qualities. Using twin data,
they found that about 50% of the variance in extraver-
sion and neuroticism was explained by genetic influ-
ences; however, this was not the case for agreeableness,
openness, and conscientiousness. Agreeableness is be-
lieved to contribute to, or overlap with, prosocial ten-
dencies (Graziano & Eisenberg, 1997). Thus, although
genetics appears to contribute to childrens prosocial
tendencies, genetically informed studies also provide
evidence for the role of the environment in the origins of
prosocial behavior.
Relatively few twin studies involve children, and the
strength of the heredity estimates has varied somewhat
across studies. In one study of 5- to 16-year-olds, the es-
timate for the genetic contribution was about 52% for
parental reports, but considerably higher for teachers
reports of prosocial behavior (Scourfield et al., 2004). In
another study, Zahn-Waxler and colleagues (Plomin
et al., 1993; Zahn-Waxler, Robinson, & Emde, 1992;
Zahn-Waxler, Schiro, Robinson, Emde, & Schmitz,
2001) examined twins behavioral reactions to simula-
tions of distress in others. Estimates of heritability indi-
cated a significant genetic component for empathic
concern, prosocial acts, and maternal reports of proso-
cial acts at 14 months of age, albeit the variance ac-
counted for was much less than 50% for all but maternal
reports (indicating that environmental factors also con-
tributed to prosocial development). At 20 months, em-
pathic concern (sympathy) and prosocial acts continued
to evidence significant genetic contributions. Active in-
difference also showed significant genetic influence at
14 months; however, there was no evidence of heritabil-
ity for self-distress at either 14 or 20 months (Zahn-
Waxler et al., 1992). Plomin et al. (1993) found no
evidence of genetic influence on change in a composite
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Biological Determinants of Prosocial Behavior 653
index of childrens empathy from 14 to 20 months of
age, although genetic factors partially accounted for sta-
bility over time in empathy.
In follow-ups in which additional twins were added to
the sample, empathic concern continued to show evi-
dence of genetic influence at 24 and 36 months, whereas
prosocial acts and indifference did so only at 36 months.
Mothers reports of childrens prosocial behavior
showed a genetic influence only at 14 months; it was
predicted by shared environmental variance at older
ages (Zahn-Waxler et al., 2001). Moreover, there is evi-
dence that heritable differences may account for tod-
dlers empathy-related responding toward an unfamiliar
adult, whereas shared environmental influences account
for concern toward the mother (Robinson, Zahn-Waxler,
& Emde, 2001). The differences in the findings reported
at earlier and older ages may have been due to the
smaller sample in the assessments conducted in the 2nd
year of life. Regardless, the magnitude of any genetic in-
fluences on these observed measures of concern gener-
ally were modest. Moreover, Robinson and colleagues
found there was no significant genetic variance in chil-
drens positive reactions to others distress at 14
months; it was moderately strong at 20 months and dis-
appeared again at 24 months (Robinson, Emde, & Cor-
ley, 2001). Thus, there appears to be considerable
variability in heritability estimates across age and mea-
sures of prosocial responding.
The role of genetic and environmental influences in
childrens prosocial tendencies has also been tested in
other types of genetically informed studies. In a study
of stepfamilies, Deater-Deckard, Dunn, et al. (2001)
found that most of the variance in adults reports of chil-
drens (mostly preschool and school age) prosocial be-
havior was due to environmental (not genetic) factors,
especially aspects of the environment that were not
shared by the children, although there was significant
variance for shared environmental effects. Moreover, in
a study involving only identical pre-school-age twins,
Deater-Deckard, Pike, et al. (2001) obtained additional
evidence of the role of nonshared environment (e.g., ma-
ternal supportive and punitive behaviors) in predicting
childrens prosocial behavior.
Other evidence relevant for examining the role of ge-
netics in prosocial behavior is found in studies of chil-
dren with certain genetic abnormalities. Williams
syndrome, caused by a microdeletion of part of the long
arm of chromosome 7, is associated with a specific per-
sonality profile that includes highly sociable, empathic,
sympathetic, and prosocial interpersonal behavior
(Mervis & Klein-Tasman, 2000), perhaps even more so
than for normal children or those with some other disor-
ders such as Prader-Willi or fragile X syndrome (Jones
et al., 2000; see Semel & Rosner, 2003). Thus, the highly
specific and sensitive social profile of individuals with
Williams syndrome suggests that hemizygous deletion
of one or more genes is involved in biasing ( but not de-
termining) development toward these components of
prosocial behavior.
Neurophysiological Underpinnings of
Prosocial Responding
Behavioral genetics research provides information re-
garding the presence and size of genetic contributions to
prosocial behavior, but does not identify the conditions
or processes of organism-environment interaction
through which genotypes are transformed into pheno-
types. Research and theory on the neurological
processes may provide a mechanism for mediation be-
tween genetics and overt behavior (see Hastings et al.,
2005, for a recent review). Panksepp (1986) suggested
that brain opioids influence the degree to which social
contact is reinforcing and that fluctuations in brain opi-
oids and the underlying emotive systems affect altruis-
tic behavior. Panksepp also hypothesized that during
social interactions (which are affected by brain opi-
oids), animals may become better attuned to the emo-
tions of their conspecifics and thereby become better
able to alleviate their distress when it occurs.
Panksepp asserted that all mammalian helping behav-
ior arises from the nurturant dictates of brain systems
that mediate social bonding and maternal care (1986,
p. 44). This view is consistent with that of MacLean
(1985), who argued that the basis for altruism lies in
maternal behavior, affiliation, and play, which are medi-
ated in part by the limbic system of the brain. MacLean
further suggested that the prefrontal neocortex, which
developed relatively recently in evolution and is most
distinctive in humans, provides the basis for concern for
others and a sense of responsibility and conscience.
There have been direct attempts to identify the neu-
ral roots of prosocial behavior and emotions. It has been
argued that the perceptual bases of empathy may be
mirror neuronsneurons that fire not only when a
monkey executes an action but also when it observes an-
other monkey or human performing the same action
(Gallese, 2001). In addition, Decety and Chaminade
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654 Prosocial Development
(2003) used positron emission tomography neuroimag-
ing (i.e., PET scanning) to demonstrate that the neural
structures known to be involved in emotional responding
(e.g., amygdala and the adjacent orbitofrontal cortex
and the insula) were activated when people listened to
sad stories designed to elicit sympathy; listening to neu-
tral stories did not cause similar neural activation. In-
creased neural activity was also found in the cortical
regions involved in shared motor representations (e.g.,
dorsal premotor cortex, right inferior parietal lobule)
areas of the brain thought to be important when taking
the perspective of others (Ruby & Decety, 2001).
Other researchers have highlighted the importance
of frontal cortical activity in sympathetic responses.
Harmon-Jones, Vaughn-Scott, Mohr, Sigelman, and
Harmon-Jones (2004) found that anger provocation in-
creased left frontal cortical activity and decreased right
activity; however, high levels of sympathetic responses
were found to eliminate these effects. Moreover, Es-
linger and colleagues (1998, Eslinger, Eastin, Grattan, &
Van Hoesen, 1996) studied individuals with front le-
sions and found that when the lesion was in the dorsolat-
eral front system, deficits in cognitive aspects of
empathy resulted. In contrast, when lesions were in the
orbitofrontal system, deficits in the more emotional as-
pects of empathy resulted. Such findings suggest that
complex neural responses likely are involved in proso-
cial actions and reactions, a conclusion that is consistent
with Panksepps (1986) assertion that it may be unreal-
istic to assume that functional unitary brain circuits will
be discovered for global constructs such as altruism,
sympathy, and prosocial behavior.
In summary, it is likely that biological factors play
some role in individual differences in empathy and
prosocial behavior. However, much of the relevant re-
search on biological mechanisms comes from work with
nonhumans, and existing behavioral genetics work is
limited in quantity and scope. Moreover, it is unclear
whether some of the aforementioned biological corre-
lates of empathy or prosocial behavior play a causal role
in individual differences among people in prosocial ten-
dencies (e.g., they may simply be correlates or conse-
quences of empathy). Pertinent theory is speculative and
underdeveloped. Finally, there is evidence that the envi-
ronment plays a critical role in prosocial development,
even in the behavioral genetics research. The key to un-
derstanding human prosocial behavior lies in determin-
ing how biological factors, prior environmental
influences on the child, and the current context jointly
affect prosocial behavior and development (with the in-
fluence of biology being probabilistic rather than deter-
ministic; Wachs, 1994).
According to both theory and empirical findings, proso-
cial behavior and empathy emerge early in life. In this
section, we first briefly review Hoffmans theory of the
development of prosocial behavior, and we then examine
age changes in prosocial behavior and empathy-related
Hoffman (1982, 2000) proposed a four-level theoretical
model that delineates the role of infants and childrens
affect and cognitive sense of self-awareness and self-
other differentiation in the emergence of prosocial be-
havior. Specifically, he outlined the developmental shift
over time from self-concern in response to others dis-
tress to empathic concern (i.e., sympathy) for others
that results in other-oriented prosocial behavior.
In Hoffmans first stage, newborns and infants dis-
play rudimentary empathic responses that are mani-
fested as global empathy. Hoffman argues that the
young infant has not acquired a sense of self-other dif-
ferentiation (at least in regard to emotional states) and
experiences empathic distress through one or more of
the simpler modes of empathy (e.g., based on reactive
crying, conditioning, mimicry). Because young infants
cannot differentiate their own distress from that of an-
other, they often experience self-distress in response to
anothers distress, as evidenced in their reactive crying
in response to the sound of anothers cry (viewed as a
simple form, or precursor, of global empathy). Begin-
ning around the end of the 1st year of life, infants expe-
rience egocentric empathic distress and are thought to
seek comfort for themselves when exposed to others
distress. At this level, infants have begun developing a
sense of self as separate from others; however, this
sense is quite immature (i.e., they cannot fully differen-
tiate between their own distress and that of another).
Thus, the infant is likely to respond to empathic and ac-
tual distress situations in the same way.
Early in the 2nd year of life, toddlers begin to make
helpful advances toward a victim of distress (i.e., pat-
ting, touching). Around the same age, they may inter-
vene by hugging, giving physical assistance, or getting
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Developmental Trends in the Emergence of Prosocial Tendencies 655
someone else to help (Zahn-Waxler & Radke-Yarrow,
1982). Hoffman labels this level quasi-egocentric em-
pathic distress. According to Hoffman (2000), toddlers
in this developmental period can differentiate between
self and other, although they still do not distinguish well
between their own and anothers internal states.
Nonetheless, toddlers can experience empathic concern
for another, rather than solely seek comfort for them-
selves. They also can and sometimes do try to comfort
another person, but such prosocial behavior is likely to
involve giving the other person what the toddlers them-
selves find comforting. Empathy at this level differs
from the previous stage because toddlers are not purely
egocentric and are more likely to respond with appropri-
ate empathic affect.
Stern (1985) has argued that young children develop
a subjective self capable of recognizing the subjectivity
of the other earlier than stated by Hoffman (2000). Al-
though this issue has not been resolved, the affect at-
tunement (a recasting or restatement of a subjective
state, p. 161) or emotional resonance between parent
and child discussed by Sternalbeit believed to be
largely out of the childs conscious awarenessmay fos-
ter the early development of affective empathy, espe-
cially if parents are empathic in their interactions.
Sometime during the 2nd year of life, children enter
the period of veridical empathic distress. According to
Hoffman (1982, 2000), this stage marks the period in
which children are increasingly aware of other peoples
feelings and are capable of understanding that other
peoples perspectives and feelings may differ from their
own. Thus, prosocial actions reflect an awareness of the
other persons needs (versus the egocentric empathy of
the previous stage), and children can be more accurate
in their empathic responses and help others in less ego-
centric ways. Moreover, with the development of lan-
guage, children are able to empathize and sympathize
with a wider range of emotions than previously. How-
ever, according to Hoffman, childrens empathic re-
sponses are restricted to anothers immediate, or
situation-specific, distress.
As children develop more sophisticated perspective-
taking skills and the ability to think abstractly, the abil-
ity to experience empathic responses even when the
other person is not physically present (e.g., if they hear
or read about someone in distress) emerges (Hoffman,
1982). Moreover, by mid to late childhood, children can
empathize with another persons general condition or
plight. Further, the adolescent is capable of compre-
hending and responding to the plight of an entire group
or class of people, such as the impoverished or the polit-
ically oppressed. Thus, Hoffman (1982) proposed that
with increasing cognitive maturation, children are bet-
ter able to respond with concern to others distress.
Empirical Studies of the Development of
Prosocial Behavior
In this section, we review empirical studies that provide
insight into the development of prosocial tendencies. To
organize these, we review them according to the ages of
the participants in the study.
Infancy and Childhood
Compared with research in older children, adolescents,
and adults, research examining prosocial behavior in
young children is relatively limited. Nonetheless, there
is some empirical support for Hoffmans theory. There
is evidence that newborn infants exhibit some form of
global empathy as displayed by their reactive crying in
response to the cries of another infant (Martin & Clark,
1982; Sagi & Hoffman, 1976). Of particular interest, in-
fants exhibit more distress in response to another in-
fants crying than to their own (Dondi, Simion, &
Caltran, 1999), suggesting that they are biologically pre-
disposed to experience a rudimentary form of empathy.
However, some researchers have questioned the inter-
pretation of these findings (Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983);
for example, infants may simply find a novel cry to be
more aversive than their own cry.
Around 6 months of age, infants will sometimes re-
spond to the cry of another infant by crying, but they fre-
quently ignore it or merely orient toward the peer (Hay,
Nash, & Pederson, 1981). By 38 to 61 weeks of age, in-
fants sometimes react to others distress by orienting
and distress cries, but they occasionally display positive
affect, such as smiling or laughing (Zahn-Waxler &
Radke-Yarrow, 1982).
Thus, it appears that infants are responsive to others
emotional signals. In a study in which mothers ex-
pressed sadness or joy in view of their 9-month-old in-
fants, the infants displayed more negative emotional
expressions and tended to avert their gaze away from
their mothers in the sadness condition and expressed
more joy when they viewed their mothers expressions
of joy (Termine & Izard, 1988). Moreover, studies of so-
cial referencing show that infants not only are respon-
sive to others emotional signals, but also make use of
them to guide their own behavior in an ambiguous situa-
tion (see Saarni, Mumme, & Campos, 1998; Saarni
dam3_c11.qxd 1/13/06 3:02 PM Page 655
656 Prosocial Development
et al., Chapter 5, this Handbook, this volume). Moreover,
during the 2nd year of life, toddlers display the ability to
discuss their own and others emotions and show signif-
icant improvements in this skill between 18 and 36
months of age (Bretherton, Fritz, Zahn-Waxler, &
Ridgeway, 1986). These findings demonstrate that very
young children are affected by the emotions they ob-
serve in others.
Around 12 to 18 months of age, infants clearly react
to others negative emotions (often with orienting and
distress reactions) and sometimes react to others dis-
tress with concerned attention and prosocial behavior,
including positive contact and verbal reassurance
(Zahn-Waxler, Robinson, et al., 1992). These patterns
have been found in interactions with mothers (Zahn-
Waxler, Robinson, et al., 1992), siblings (Dunn, 1988),
peers (Denham, 1986; Howes & Farver, 1987), and
strangers (Johnson, 1982).
In one of the earliest studies of childrens sympathy
and prosocial behavior, Lois Murphy (1937) found that
preschool children reacted to anothers distress in a va-
riety of ways. Childrens responses ranged from sympa-
thy and prosocial initiations to egocentric and
unsympathetic reactions, such as laughing, aggression,
or ignoring. These findings have been replicated in other
samples with young children (Radke-Yarrow & Zahn-
Waxler, 1984; Zahn-Waxler & Radke-Yarrow, 1982;
Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, Wagner, & Chapman,
1992). Moreover, researchers have found that respon-
siveness to peers distress in naturalistic settings is rela-
tively infrequent among toddlers and preschoolers
(Caplan & Hay, 1989; Howes & Farver, 1987; Phinney,
Feshbach, & Farver, 1986). In a naturalistic study ex-
amining toddlers responses to peers distress in day
care, Lamb and Zakhireh (1997) found that toddlers re-
sponded to a peers distress with prosocial behavior in
only 11 out of 345 incidents. Factors that appear to re-
late to childrens prosocial responding include whether a
peers distress persists for a long period or if the partic-
ular peer is one who infrequently becomes distressed
(Caplan & Hay, 1989).
As proposed by Hoffman (1982, 2000), prosocial be-
haviors have been associated with indices of cognitive
development. Toddlers who display evidence of self-
recognition (indicating a self-other distinction) tend to
be relatively empathic and are likely to display prosocial
behaviors (Bischof-Koehler, 1991; Johnson, 1982; Zahn-
Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, et al., 1992; Zahn-Waxler,
Schiro, et al., 2001). Further, childrens perspective tak-
ing (as indexed by their hypothesis testing, e.g., at-
tempts to label or understand why the other is dis-
tressed] or social referencing) in the 2nd year of life and
at ages 4 to 5 has been positively related to their proso-
cial behaviors (Kiang, Moreno, & Robinson, 2004;
Zahn-Waxler, Cole, Welsh, & Fox, 1995; Zahn-Waxler,
Robinson, et al., 1992). Similarly, preschool childrens
emotion knowledge has been positively related to proso-
cial behavior toward adults who express negative emo-
tion (Denham & Couchoud, 1991) and toward younger
siblings (Garner, Jones, & Palmer, 1994).
Other types of prosocial behavior besides sympa-
thetic or comforting responses to others distress have
been examined in young children. The tendency to give
objects to other people is common in early childhood,
and young children have been observed sharing objects
with parents, other adults, siblings, and peers (Hay,
1994). Object sharing seems to emerge around 8 months
of age and is increasingly evident during the next year
(Hay & Rheingold, 1983). In general, prosocial behavior
has been found to increase in the early years of life
(Zahn-Waxler & Radke-Yarrow, 1982; Zahn-Waxler,
Robinson, et al., 1992; 2001). For example, Zahn-
Waxler, Robinson, et al. (1992, 2001) and Robinson
et al. (2001) studied toddlers empathy-related respond-
ing to an experimenter and the mother feigning injuries
at 14, 20, 24, and 36 months of age. They found an in-
crease with age in empathic concern, hypotheses test-
ing, and prosocial behavior. Van der Mark, van
Ijzendoorn, and Bakermans-Kranenburg (2002) also
found an increase in empathy/prosocial responding
(combined) from 16 to 22 months when toddlers moth-
ers were distressed. Further, Lamb and Zakhireh (1997)
found that age was positively related to toddlers proso-
cial behavior toward peers.
Moreover, nonempathic responses (e.g., self-oriented
distress reactions) seem to decrease in the second and
3rd year of life (Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, et al.,
1992; Zahn-Waxler et al., 2001). Toddlers indifference
toward anothers distress has been found to decline from
14 to 20 months of age and then increase between 24 and
36 months (Zahn-Waxler et al., 2001). Nonetheless, with
increasing age, preschoolers are more likely to respond
to others distress with empathy and prosocial behaviors
(Hastings, Zahn-Waxler, Robinson, Usher, & Bridges,
2000; Lennon & Eisenberg, 1987; Phinney et al., 1986).
Although many empirical studies have demonstrated
the hypothesized increase in prosocial behavior over
time, Hay (1994; Hay, Caplan, Castle, & Stimson, 1991)
proposed a developmental model which predicted that
prosocial action would emerge in the 2nd year of life and
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Developmental Trends in the Emergence of Prosocial Tendencies 657
decline after that. She argued that after the age of 2,
prosocial action becomes more regulated such that it is
shown to some but not to all potential recipients (e.g.,
prosocial actions become increasingly differentiated
based on gender and personality). In one study with
girls and boys in three age cohorts (18 to 24 months, 24
to 30 months, and 30 to 36 months), Hay found the hy-
pothesized decline in sharing with peers between 18 and
24 months of age; however, the trend was not reliable
thereafter. In addition, the tendency to share was more
stable with older toddlers (24- to 36-month-olds) than
with younger toddlers (18- to 24-month-olds; Hay, Cas-
tle, Davies, Demetriou, & Stimson, 1999). The fact that
Hay and colleagues studied sharing with only familiar
peersand in fact best friendsmay have con-
tributed to the pattern observed; most studies have not
involved this type of sharing context. Additionally, the
meaning of prosocial behavior may differ across child-
hood. At young ages, children may exchange toys as part
of simple play or to communicate with their friend about
the objects they are using (e.g., to show the peer some-
thing about a toy or to interest the peer in it).
To bring coherence to the many studies of age-related
change in prosocial behavior, Eisenberg and Fabes
(1998) conducted a meta-analysis of relevant studies.
Overall, there were significant increases in prosocial be-
havior within both the infant ( less than 3 years of age)
and the preschool (3 to 6 years) age groups (effect sizes
= .24 and .33). In addition, there were increases in
prosocial behavior when comparing the preschool group
with either the childhood or adolescent age groups.
However, there was no difference between the infancy
and preschool periods, perhaps due to the relatively
small number of studies that compared these age groups
(n = 11). In addition, school-age children were higher in
prosocial behavior than preschoolers (effect size = .30).
In the meta-analysis, prosocial behavior generally
increased across the preschool and school years (also
see Benenson, Markovits, Roy, & Denko, 2003). How-
ever, some of the findings were based on relatively
small samples, particularly for comparisons of the
youngest children in these samples. We also recognize
that the findings of our meta-analysis were based
largely on cross-sectional data and on aggregations of
data from studies that varied greatly in their quality
and methodologies.
Despite possible age-related changes in childrens
prosocial behavior, there appears to be considerable in-
terindividual stability in childrens levels of prosocial
responding. Ct, Tremblay, Nagin, Zoccolillo, and Vi-
taro (2002) examined the continuity of trajectories for
helpfulness across early elementary school (measured
annually from age 6 to age 12 years). Generally, children
who entered kindergarten with specific levels of help-
fulness finished primary school at similar levels. The
observed degree of stability in these trajectories was
impressive considering that ratings of helpfulness were
provided by independent raters (i.e., different teachers
at different years).
Age Trends. Prosocial tendencies appear to in-
crease from childhood into adolescence. According to
Eisenberg and Fabess (1998) meta-analysis, adolescents
tend to be higher in prosocial behavior than children
aged 7 to 12 years, albeit on sharing/donating, but not
instrumental helping or comforting. Both young adoles-
cents (13 to 15 years) and older adolescents (16 to 18
years) were higher than elementary school students in
their prosocial tendencies (Fabes, Carlo, Kupanoff, &
Laible, 1999). Although there was not an overall in-
crease in prosocial responding across adolescence (from
age 12 to 17 or 18), prosocial behavior increased in ado-
lescence for the few studies of sharing/donating ( but not
helping), and in experimental /structured studies ( but
not naturalistic/correlational studies; see Eisenberg &
Fabes, 1998; also see Jacobs et al., 2004). Thus, adoles-
cents exhibit more prosocial behavior than do younger
children; however, this pattern was noted only for par-
ticular types of studies. Moreover, helping of victims of
aggression may actually decline across adolescence
(Lindeman, Harakka, & Keltikangas-Jrvinen, 1997;
also see Pakaslahti, Karjalainen, & Keltikangas-Jrvi-
nen, 2002).
In the meta-analysis, prosocial behavior directed
toward adults did not change with age in adolescence.
This finding may primarily reflect findings in the
family setting. Investigators have found nonlinear age-
related changes or no consistent change in adolescents
and parents reports of adolescents parent-directed
prosocial behaviors (e.g., Eberly & Montemayor, 1998,
1999; also see Keith, Nelson, Schlabach, & Thompson,
1990), as well as a decline in helpfulness toward
parents between fifth and ninth grades (Eberly et al.,
Based on Hoffmans theory, one would expect an
age-related increase in empathy-related responding dur-
ing adolescence, especially in situations in which empa-
thy or sympathy is directed toward abstract groups (e.g.,
deprived groups). In studies conducted before about
dam3_c11.qxd 1/13/06 3:02 PM Page 657
658 Prosocial Development
1986, findings regarding age trends in empathy-related
responding in adolescence were inconsistent, although
there was some evidence of an increase from childhood
into adolescence (e.g., Saklofske & Eysenck, 1983; see
Lennon & Eisenberg, 1987). Since 1987, there has been
additional longitudinal evidence of an increase in empa-
thy-related responding from 9th to 10th grade, espe-
cially for sympathetic concern, and of a decline in
personal distress (Davis & Franzoi, 1991). In a cross-
sectional study, Strayer and Roberts (1997b) also found
that both reported empathic sadness and facial con-
cerned reactions to evocative videotapes (perhaps in-
dicative of sympathy) increased with age from
childhood into adolescence (although there was no age
difference in affective matching of the emotion in the
film). However, some investigators who have conducted
cross-sectional studies have obtained mixed evidence of
sympathy increasing between 6th and 12th grade (Ol-
weus & Endresen, 1998) or have found little change in
sympathy or personal distress from 8th to 11th grades
(Karniol, Gabay, Ochion, & Harari, 1998). Finally, a
longitudinal study (Eisenberg, Cumberland, Guthrie,
Murphy, & Shepard, 2005) did not find change in sym-
pathy from age 15 to 16 into the 20s, although personal
distress declined with age. Thus, there may be a modest
increase in sympathy with age, especially in early to
mid-adolescence, although it is not clear that sympathy
increases in mid- and late-adolescence.
The Potential Effects of Adolescents Participa-
tion in Prosocial Service. A type of prosocial behav-
ior that appears to be much more common in
adolescence than at younger ages is volunteering. Ap-
proximately half of all adolescents engage in some type
of community service or volunteer activity (National
Center for Education Statistics, 1997). Volunteerism is
an interesting type of prosocial behavior because it gen-
erally is sustained over some period of time (rather than
performed only once) and is expected to have some en-
during effect on youths prosocial, civic, and personal
Although motives for volunteering vary and are
sometimes self-related rather than altruistic (Clary &
Snyder, 1999), investigators have found that high school
students who volunteer appear to benefit from the expe-
rience. Of these studies, few have used random assign-
ment (for an exception, see Allen, Philliber, Herrling, &
Kuperminc, 1997), although most have included a com-
parison control group or a pre/post design (see Moore &
Allen, 1996; Yates & Youniss, 1996a). In general, re-
searchers have found volunteering is associated with in-
creases in adolescents self-esteem and self-acceptance,
moral development, and belief in ones personal respon-
sibility to help (Conrad & Hedin, 1982; see Switzer,
Simmons, Dew, Regalski, & Wang, 1995, for similar re-
sults for a required helping program), as well as concern
for social issues and future intended service (Metz,
McLellan, & Youniss, 2003).
In a panel design of youth volunteers and nonvolun-
teers in which the initial levels of variables correlated
with volunteering were controlled, volunteering was re-
lated to gains in subsequent intrinsic work values and
the anticipated importance of community involvement
(Johnson, Beebe, Mortimer, & Snyder, 1998). There is
also evidence that service participation (voluntary or
not) is related to decreases in course failure, truancy,
suspension from school, school dropout, disciplinary
problems, and pregnancies, as well as with improved
reading skills (see Allen, Kuperminc, Philliber, &
Herre, 1994; Allen et al., 1997; Calabrese & Schumer,
1986; Moore & Allen, 1996; Switzer et al., 1995; also
see Eccles & Barber, 1999). Finally, in a prospective
longitudinal study, volunteer work negatively predicted
subsequent arrests, even when controlling for the effects
of antisocial propensities, prosocial attitudes and behav-
ior, and commitment to conventional lines of action
(Uggen & Janikula, 1999). Quality of the program (e.g.,
allowing adolescents autonomy and choice, being chal-
lenging and enjoyable), length of the program (programs
12 weeks or more tend to be more successful than
shorter programs), and age of adolescents (in some pro-
grams, older youth benefited more) all appear to affect
potential benefits of volunteering (Moore & Allen,
1996). Thus, participation in service activitiesa com-
mon adolescent activityis related to both prosocial
and other developmental outcomes.
Moderators of Age Trends across Childhood
and Adolescence
Viewed more generally, the extant literature appears to
support the conclusion that as children get older, they
exhibit more sympathy and prosocial behavior. This
trend does not hold, however, for children of all ages or
for all measures of prosocial behavior (see Radke-
Yarrow, Zahn-Waxler, & Chapman, 1983; Zarbatany,
Hartmann, & Gelfand, 1985). In fact, in the previously
mentioned Eisenberg and Fabes (1998) meta-analysis,
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Developmental Trends in the Emergence of Prosocial Tendencies 659
age differences in prosocial behavior sometimes varied
as a function of study characteristics. These differences
did not vary as a function of type of prosocial behavior
for studies conducted with young children; moreover,
across the remaining age group comparisons (involving
older children), the magnitude of age differences was
relatively constant in size when the type of prosocial be-
havior was sharing, comforting, or an aggregated index.
In contrast, the magnitude of the age-related effect size
for instrumental helping varied more across the older
age group comparisons. The magnitude of this effect
size was relatively high when the type of prosocial be-
havior was instrumental help for the childhood versus
preschool and childhood versus childhood comparisons
and relatively low for the adolescent versus childhood
and the adolescent versus adolescent comparisons.
The magnitude of the effect sizes differed signifi-
cantly by the method of data collection (e.g., obser-
vation, self-report, other-report) only for childhood/
preschool, childhood/childhood, and adolescent /child-
hood comparison groups. For both the childhood/
preschool and childhood/childhood age comparison
groups, effect sizes for age differences were signifi-
cantly higher when prosocial tendencies were measured
with observations or self-reports than when assessed
with reports obtained from other people. For the adoles-
cent versus childhood comparisons, effect sizes were
significantly higher when measured with observational
or other report methods rather than with self-report
For all age-comparison groups, effect sizes were
greater in experimental /structured designs than in natu-
ralistic/correlational designs (although the difference
was not significant for infant /infant and preschool /pre-
school comparisons). Finally, the magnitude of the ef-
fect size differed significantly by the target of the
prosocial behavior, but this was true only for child-
hood/preschool, childhood/childhood, and adolescent /
adolescent comparison groups. In the first two age
comparison groups, effect sizes were larger when the
target was an adult and lowest when the target was un-
known/unspecified (with child targets in between). In
contrast, for the adolescent /adolescent comparison, the
effect size was greater when the target was a child com-
pared with an adult.
There also were differences in the procedures used
to measure prosocial behavior in different age groups.
Instrumental help was relatively unlikely to be used as a
measure of prosocial behavior with children under 7
years of age. Moreover, naturalistic/correlational de-
signs were relatively likely to be used with younger
children, whereas experimental /structured designs were
more often used with older children. Additionally,
adults were likely to be used as targets of childrens
prosocial behavior in studies with the youngest and old-
est age groups, whereas children were likely to be the
potential recipients of prosocial behavior for children
not at the age extremes. Thus, age-related differences in
prosocial behavior may have varied as a function of dif-
ferences in study characteristics that differed across
age groups.
To explore this possibility, we examined age differ-
ences in prosocial behavior while controlling for study
characteristics (through hierarchical regression analy-
ses). Age differences in prosocial behavior were found
to be smaller as the mean age of the sample increased, as
the sample size increased, and in studies published more
recently. Moreover, although type of prosocial behavior
was related to effect sizes for age prior to controlling for
study characteristics, effect sizes were not affected by
type of prosocial measure (instrumental help, sharing/
donating, aggregated, comforting) after partialling out
other study characteristics. However, after controlling
for study characteristics (and not before), a larger in-
crease in prosocial behavior with age was found when
prosocial behavior was measured with self- or other-re-
ports rather than with observations.
In brief, the findings of our meta-analysis suggested
that age differences in prosocial behavior differed in
magnitude as a function of the specific age comparison,
the measure of prosocial behavior, and the type of analy-
sis. However, combining across all studies and study
characteristics, we still found a significant, positive ef-
fect size for age differences in prosocial behavior. Thus,
our data support the conclusion that as children get
older, prosocial behaviors generally are more likely to
occur, although there may be variation within age
groups and for various measures and methods.
Processes Potentially Related to Changes with
Age in Prosocial Responding
For some theorists, the primary source of the increase in
prosocial and altruistic behavior across age is sociocog-
nitive development, including understanding and decod-
ing others emotions, evaluative processes (evaluating
behaviors and situations in terms of moral standards),
and planning processes (Krebs & Van Hesteren, 1994).
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660 Prosocial Development
Aspects of socioemotional responding (e.g., moral emo-
tions, regulatory capacities) also partially account for
age-related changes in prosocial behavior (Hart, Burock,
London, & Atkins, 2003).
Sociocognitive Processes
As noted by Krebs and Van Hesteren (1994) and Hoff-
man (1982), attention to the needs of others transforms
egoistic affect to other-oriented affect, rendering it in-
creasingly altruistic. Throughout infancy and childhood,
children develop an increasingly refined understanding
of others emotional states and cognitive processes, and
are better able to decode other peoples emotional cues
(see Eisenberg, Murphy, & Shepard, 1997, for a review).
As is discussed later, such perspective taking and re-
lated sociocognitive skills are associated with prosocial
responding. Moreover, with age, children are more
likely to have the social experience necessary to per-
ceive anothers need in social contexts in which overt
cues of distress are ambiguous or subtle (see Pearl,
1985), and to distinguish real versus apparent emotional
states (Gosselin, Warren, & Diotte, 2002). In addition,
younger children appear to weigh costs to the self more
than do older children when deciding whether to assist
others (see Eisenberg, 1986) and are less attuned to the
benefits of prosocial behavior (Lourenco, 1993; Perry,
Perry, & Weiss, 1986). These age-related differences in
the analysis of costs and benefits likely contribute to
age-related differences in prosocial behavior.
Moreover, numerous researchers have suggested that
the quality of childrens motivation for assisting others
changes with age (e.g., Eisenberg, 1986; Erdley &Asher,
1999; Krebs & Van Hesteren, 1994). Bar-Tal, Raviv, and
Leiser (1980) proposed that childrens helping behavior
develops through six stages that differ in quality of moti-
vation. The first three stages involve helping behaviors
that are compliant and in which the child anticipates the
gain of material rewards (or the avoidance of punish-
ment). The next two stages involve compliance with so-
cial demands and concern with social approval and
generalized reciprocity. The final stage represents true
altruism in which helping is an end in itself.
Bar-Tal and colleagues found some support for their
hypothesized developmental changes in childrens mo-
tives for helping. For example, older children tend to as-
sist more often than do younger children in contexts in
which the effects of compliance and rewards or costs
are minimized (Bar-Tal, Raviv, et al., 1980; see Bar-
Tal, 1982; Eisenberg, 1986). Although Bar-Tal and col-
Here and throughout the chapter, the abbreviation cf.,
meaning compare with, signifies contrast with. It indi-
cates that contrary findings were obtained in a study. Also
see generally indicates that the results in the listed studies
are also relevant to discussion of the issue at hand.
leagues sought to delineate a developmental sequence in
prosocial motivation, the data concerning this issue are
inconclusive (i.e., it is unclear whether all their pro-
posed stages actually emerge in the specified order; see
Eisenberg, 1986). Nonetheless, childrens reported mo-
tives for their prosocial behavior change in ways that
generally are consistent with Bar-Tals stages. Although
even preschoolers sometimes give simple other-oriented
and pragmatic reasons for their peer-directed prosocial
actions (Eisenberg, Lundy, Shell, & Roth, 1985; Eisen-
berg, Pasternack, Cameron, & Tryon, 1984), re-
searchers generally have found a decrease with age in
self-oriented, hedonistic reasons for helping and an in-
crease in other-oriented, internalized, and altruistic
motives and reasons for prosocial behavior (e.g., Bar-
Tal, Raviv, et al., 1980; see Bar-Tal, 1982; Eisenberg,
1986; cf. Hertz-Lazarowitz, 1983).
Thus, in general,
the evidence of developmental change in childrens mo-
tives for assisting others is relatively compelling (see
Eisenberg, 1986).
Like Bar-Tal (1982), Krebs and Van Hesteren (1994)
proposed age-related forms of altruism, ranging from
egocentric and exchange stages (e.g., egocentric accom-
modation and instrumental cooperation, Stages 1 and 2,
respectively), to concern with others evaluation and be-
having in a socially acceptable manner (Stage 3), to al-
truism motivated by the desire to fulfill an internalized
sense of social responsibility (e.g., conscientious altru-
ism, Stage 4). The higher level adult stages are moti-
vated by the desire to uphold self-chosen, internalized
utilitarian values (e.g., maximizing benefits to all; au-
tonomous altruism, Stage 5), the goal of fostering maxi-
mally balanced and integrated social relationships (e.g.,
upholding the rights of all people, including the self; in-
tegrated altruism, Stage 6), and the goal of universal
love stemming from a cosmic feeling of oneness with the
universe and a selfless ethic of responsible love, service,
and sacrifice that is extended to others without regard
for merit (universal self-sacrificial love, Stage 7). Of
course, children or adolescents would not be expected to
obtain the higher level stages. Although Krebs and his
colleagues have not explicitly tested the validity of their
stages, their position is supported in the data collected
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Developmental Trends in the Emergence of Prosocial Tendencies 661
by other investigators concerned with the development
of moral reasoning, prosocial behavior, and empathy.
Age-related changes in childrens evaluative
processes and prosocial-relevant goals are reflected in
childrens prosocial moral reasoning (i.e., reasoning
about moral dilemmas in which one persons needs or
wants conflict with those of others in a context where
authorities, laws, rules, punishment, and formal obliga-
tions play a minimal role). In research on prosocial
moral reasoning, individuals typically are presented
with hypothetical moral conflicts (e.g., about helping an
injured child rather than going to a social event), and
their reasoning about the conflicts is elicited.
Based on both cross-sectional and longitudinal re-
search, Eisenberg and her colleagues have identified an
age-related sequence of childrens prosocial reasoning.
Preschool and early elementary school students tend to
use primarily hedonistic reasoning or needs-oriented
(primitive empathic) prosocial reasoning. Hedonistic
reasoning decreases sharply in elementary school and
increases slightly in adolescence. Needs-oriented rea-
soning increases until mid-childhood and then levels off
in use. In elementary school, childrens reasoning begins
to reflect concern with others approval and enhancing
interpersonal relationships, as well as the desire to be-
have in stereotypically good ways. However, such rea-
soning (particularly approval-oriented reasoning)
appears to decline somewhat in high school.
Beginning in late elementary school or thereafter,
children begin to express reasoning reflecting abstract
principles, internalized affective reactions (e.g., guilt or
positive affect about the consequences of ones behavior
for others or living up to internalized principles and val-
ues), and self-reflective sympathy and perspective tak-
ing. Thus, although children and adolescents sometimes
verbalize immature modes of reasoning, childrens
moral reasoning becomes more abstract, somewhat less
self-oriented, and increasingly based on values, moral
principles, and moral emotions with age (Carlo, Eisen-
berg, & Knight, 1992; Carlo, Koller, Eisenberg, De-
Silva, & Frohlich, 1996; Eisenberg, Carlo, Murphy, &
Van Court, 1995; Eisenberg-Berg, 1979; also see Hart
et al., 2003; Helwig & Turiel, 2003). As discussed later,
these age-related changes are linked to prosocial behav-
ior; thus, the processes reflected in childrens moral
reasoning likely play some role in the age-related in-
crease in quantity and quality of prosocial behavior.
However, these processes may include age-related
changes in goals and values, as well as in the sociocog-
nitive skills required for high-level moral reasoning (see
Eisenberg, 1986).
Sociocognitive processes may underlie the develop-
ment of childrens prosocial behaviors, but engaging in
these processes does not ensure the enacting of proso-
cial actions. Eisenberg and Fabes (1992) suggested that
individuals who are well regulated are relatively likely
to engage in costly, other-oriented prosocial behavior.
Because regulatory capacities likely increase with age
(Eisenberg, Smith, Sadovsky, & Spinrad, 2004), we
would expect older children, relative to younger ones, to
be more likely to respond sympathetically and with
prosocial behavior in emotionally evocative situations.
Support for the hypothesized relations between chil-
drens prosocial tendencies and their behavioral and
emotional regulation is discussed later.
Age Changes in Empathy-Related Responding
Developmental change in both childrens emotion regu-
lation and in their sociocognitive skills (e.g., Hoffman,
1982, 2000) would be expected to contribute to age-re-
lated changes in prosocial behavior, in part by influenc-
ing childrens tendencies to respond empathically or
sympathetically. Lennon and Eisenberg (1987), in a re-
view of the literature, found that age differences in em-
pathy varied with the specific index of empathy used. In
general, self-report of empathy/sympathy was positively
associated with age in preschool and elementary school
years. Facial /gestural indices appeared to be either in-
versely related or unrelated to age in the early school
years, perhaps due to increases with age in childrens
ability to mask their emotions. As discussed, more re-
cent studies show some evidence (albeit mixed) for in-
creased empathy-related responding in adolescence.
Eisenberg and Fabes (1998) conducted a separate
meta-analysis of age differences in empathy (rather than
prosocial behavior) in studies published since 1983 and
found an overall unweighted effect size of .24 (favoring
older children). Moreover, they found that effect sizes in
empathy varied significantly by method; they were sig-
nificant and larger for observational and self-report in-
dices than for nonverbal (facial /physiological) or
other-report measures (for which the effect sizes were
not significant).
Vitaglione and Barnett (2003) found evidence that
empathic anger on behalf of a victimized person moti-
vates desires to help. As children develop the ability to
empathize with others, empathic anger may increasingly
motivate prosocial behavior.
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662 Prosocial Development
Changes in Experience-Based Competence
Developmental changes in childrens experience-based
competencies also affect their ability to engage in proso-
cial behavior. Peterson (1983) found that when children
were specially trained on relevant tasks, age-related in-
creases in helping evaporated. The data in our meta-
analysis (see Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998) also suggested
that experience-based developmental competencies may
contribute to age-related differences in prosocial behav-
ior. For example, age differences in prosocial behavior
were relatively pronounced when the index of prosocial
behavior was instrumental helping. Older children may
provide more direct, instrumental assistance because
they possess greater physical and social competence
than do younger children.
Developmental changes in prosocial behavior are com-
plex and are influenced by methodological factors.
Moreover, the precise developmental mechanisms in-
volved in producing these changes are not yet fully expli-
cated and likely involve cognitive, social,
motivational /emotional, and physical processes and ca-
pabilities. The next wave of research should include
studies devoted to identifying when and how age-related
changes in the sociocognitive, emotional, and regulatory
capabilities jointly affect prosocial responding.
Research on the cultural bases of prosocial responding
provides insights into the role of the social environ-
mentin contrast to strictly biological factorsin
prosocial development. People in different cultures may
differ somewhat genetically from one another, but these
differences are unlikely to fully account for any large
cultural differences found in human social behavior.
Research in non-Western cultures suggests that soci-
eties vary greatly in the degree to which prosocial and
cooperative behavior are normative, and such differ-
ences appear to affect prosocial development. In field
studies of individual cultures, some writers have de-
scribed societies in which prosocial and communal val-
ues and behaviors are (or were in the past) highly valued
and common, such as the Aitutaki (a Polynesian island
people; Graves & Graves, 1983), the Javanese (e.g., Mul-
der, 1996; Williams, 1991), and the Papago tribe in Ari-
zona (Rohner, 1975; see Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989). In
contrast, other social and behavioral scientists have de-
scribed cultures in which prosocial behaviors were rare
and cruelty or hostility was the norm, such as the Ik of
Uganda (Turnbull, 1972) or the Alorese (on an island
east of Java; Rohner, 1975). Moreover, societal experi-
ments such as the communally oriented kibbutzim in Is-
rael (see Nadler, Romek, & Shapira-Friedman, 1979)
support the view that subcultural variations can have a
substantial impact on prosocial values and behavior.
The perceived practical value of prosocial behavior
varies across cultures; such differences may affect even
early socialization. It has been reported that in some
cultures such as in West Africa, prosocial behavior is
encouraged as early as infancy (e.g., infants are offered
objects and then encouraged to return the gifts) to en-
courage sharing and exchange norms believed to bind
the social group together (Nsamenang, 1992).
In many cases, reports of cultural differences in
prosocial responding are based on single-culture studies
and qualitative data (or mere observation/inference).
Empirical studies of prosocial behaviors and values
sometimes include only one culture, sometimes more.
Although the results of the empirical research generally
are consistent with qualitative cultural studies in high-
lighting the importance of culture in prosocial develop-
ment, little is known about cross-cultural differences in
actual (rather than reported) prosocial actions directed
toward those who are not part of the childs family or
community. Nor is it clear what factors mediate or mod-
erate the cultural factors that have been found.
Laboratory or Adult- and Self-Report Studies
Much of the work on cross-cultural and subcultural
variation in prosocial behavior is embedded in the re-
search on cooperation, competition, and reward-alloca-
tion behavior. In many studies, the measure of
cooperation involved overt self-gain; this work is not re-
viewed. However, researchers consistently have found
that children from traditional rural and semi-agricul-
tural communities and from relatively traditional sub-
cultures (e.g., Mexican American children) are more
cooperative than children from urban or Westernized
cultures (see Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989).
In other studies, children were asked to make a series
of choices concerning the distribution of objects (i.e.,
chips) to the self and a peer when giving the peer more
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Cultural Determinants of Prosocial Behavior 663
chips did not change the childs own yield. Brazilian
children (Carlo, Roesch, Knight, & Koller, 2001) and
Mexican American children generally give more to the
peer than do Euro-American children (Kagan & Knight,
1981; Knight, Nelson, Kagan, & Gumbiner, 1982), and
the difference for Mexican Americans increases in mag-
nitude from age 5 to 6 years to age 8 to 9 years (Knight
& Kagan, 1977b). Sometimes, however, there have been
no significant differences between Mexican or Mexican
American children and Euro-American children in the
selection of options in which the peer could receive
more chips than the child (e.g., Kagan & Knight, 1981;
Knight, Nelson, Kagan, & Gumbiner, 1982). The ten-
dency to choose more for the peer than for the self is
stronger in second- than in third-generation Mexican
American children (Knight & Kagan, 1977a), suggest-
ing that acculturation is associated with a decline in
prosocial tendencies. Consistent with the latter finding,
de Guzman and Carlo (2004) found that acculturation
was negatively related to Hispanic adolescents self-
reported prosocial behavior.
In another variation on allocation tasks, some of the
choices allow children to give more to the peer at a cost
to the self. Mexican American or Mexican children still
tend to give more prize chips overall to a peer than do
Euro-American children (e.g., Knight, Kagan, & Buriel,
1981). Mexican American children with a stronger eth-
nic identity have been found to display more concern
with others outcomes on this type of task (Knight,
Cota, & Bernal, 1993). On a similar task, Cook Island
Polynesian children were more generous than were New
Zealand city and rural children of European origin
(Graves & Graves, 1983).
In other studies, cross-national or cross-cultural dif-
ferences in sharing or helping have been examined. Few
consistent differences have been found among Western,
industrialized countries such as Germany, Russia, Aus-
tralia, and the United States (e.g., Kienbaum & Tromms-
dorff, 1999; Russell, Hart, Robinson, & Olsen, 2003),
although young Italian adolescents report more prosocial
behavior than Hungarian youth, who report more than
Czech youth (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli, Cermak,
& Rosza, 2001). In studies within North and South
America, Mexican rural children and Euro-American
city children were equally likely to help a peer in a non-
competitive context (Kagan & Madsen, 1972) and Mexi-
can American and Euro-American children did not
differ in anonymous sharing of candy with an unspeci-
fied classmate (Hansen & Bryant, 1980). In contrast,
U.S. first graders shared candy more than did Colom-
bian children of the same age, although some ( but not
all) of this sharing was passive (i.e., they allowed a peer
to take the candies; Pilgrim & Rueda-Riedle, 2002).
More consistent cross-group differences might be
found when comparing Eastern and Western cultures.
Although Trommsdorff (1995) did not find a difference
in German and Japanese 5-year-olds prosocial behavior
with a distressed peer, Stewart and McBride-Chang
(2000) found that Asian second graders (from a range of
ethnic groups) were more likely than Western Caucasian
children in Hong Kong to donate gifts for participating
in the study to other children in the classroom who could
not participate. Similarly, Rao and Stewart (1999) found
that Asian (Chinese Hong Kong and Indian) kindergart-
ners shared more food with a peer than had been found
in a sample in the United States, and Asian children
were more likely to do so spontaneously and to allow the
peer to take some food. Thus, in initial small studies, it
appears that Asian children are more likely to engage in
prosocial behavior than are Western Caucasian children.
This finding may be due to the greater focus on main-
taining good relationships with group members (and on
the interrelatedness of self and other) in at least some
Asian cultures, compared with Western cultures
(Markus & Kitayama, 1991).
Naturalistic Observational Research
Systematic observation of prosocial behavior in differ-
ent cultures is rare. In the classic study by Whiting and
Whiting (1975), prosocial behavior was operationalized
as a composite index of offering helping (including
food, toys, and helpful information), offering support,
and making helpful suggestions. Cultures in which chil-
dren scored relatively high on prosocial behavior
(Kenya, Mexico, Philippines) tended to differ from the
other three cultures (Okinawa, India, and the United
States) on several dimensions. In prosocial cultures,
people tended to live together in extended families, the
female role was important (with women making major
contributions to the economic status of the family),
work was less specialized, and the government was less
centralized. Further, childrens prosocial behavior was
associated with early assignment of chores and taking
on responsibility for welfare of family members and the
familys economic well-being (also see Whiting & Ed-
wards, 1988). Similar to Whitings data on chores and
family structure, Graves and Graves (1983) found that
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664 Prosocial Development
Aituaki (Polynesian) children, particularly girls, from
urban settings performed fewer chores and were less
prosocial than were children raised in traditional ex-
tended families.
Consistent with some of the aforementioned labora-
tory research on Asian and Western childrens prosocial
behavior, Stevenson (1991) found that the observed inci-
dence of sharing, comforting, and helping in Taiwanese,
Japanese, and U.S. kindergarten classes was lowest in
the United States (albeit relatively high in all groups).
Stevenson and others have argued that Chinese and
Japanese societies generally put great emphasis on so-
cializing children to be responsible and prosocial toward
others in their group (e.g., the family, the classroom,
and the society; also see Hieshima & Schneider, 1994).
Privileges and social acknowledgment in the classroom
are dependent on group rather than on individual ac-
complishments. Researchers have also suggested that
Japanese mothers traditionally use empathic sensitivity
in their parenting to promote their childrens empathy
with them and with others needs (Lebra, 1994;
Trommsdorff & Kornadt, 2003). However, parental
valuing of prosocial behavior appears to have declined
from the 1950s and 1960s to the 1980s in the Peoples
Republic of China (Lee & Zhan, 1991), so it is unclear
whether the findings would be replicated today in Asian
countries that are undergoing rapid cultural transitions.
Moral Reasoning, Values, and Beliefs about
Social Responsibility
Cultural norms regarding the importance of harmony
among people and social responsibility differ across
cultures and subcultures. Miller and her colleagues
found that Hindu Indians held a broader and more strin-
gent duty-based view of social responsibility than did
people in the United States. Hindu Indians, school-age
and adult, tended to focus more than North Americans
on responsiveness to others needs when discussing
moral conflicts and viewed interpersonal responsibili-
ties as at least as important as justice-related obligations
(Miller & Bersoff, 1992). In contrast, people in the
United States tended to view interpersonal responsive-
ness and caring as less obligatory and more of a personal
choice, particularly if the others need was moderate or
minor, or if friends or strangers (rather than parents and
children) were potential recipients (Miller, Bersoff, &
Harwood, 1990). Adults in the United States, for exam-
ple, were more likely than Indian adults to report that
their liking of a needy sibling or colleague affected their
moral responsibility to help that person (Miller &
Bersoff, 1998). Both groups, however, reported feeling
less obligation to help people on the other side of the
world than those in their own town. Miller and Bersoff
(1992; Baron & Miller, 2000) argued that a personal
morality of interpersonal responsiveness and caring
(such as that in the United States) is linked to a strong
cultural emphasis on individual rights and autonomy.
The research on prosocial and caring-related moral
reasoning is a body of work relevant to an understanding
of cross-cultural variation in cognitions about prosocial
behavior. Among industrial Western cultures, relatively
few cross-cultural differences in prosocial or caring-
related reasoning have been noted, although minor dif-
ferences have been found (see Eisenberg, Boehnke,
Schuhler, & Silbereisen, 1985; Eisenberg, Hertz-
Lazarowitz, & Fuchs, 1990; Skoe et al., 1999). More-
over, the reasons that German, Polish, Italian, and
American adolescents attribute to themselves for help-
ing or not helping were somewhat similar, although some
differences have been found (Boehnke, Silbereisen,
Eisenberg, Reykowski, & Palmonari, 1989). In general,
however, the similarities in the care- or prosocial-
related moral reasoning or prosocial self-attributions of
individuals from Western cultures are much greater than
the differences.
The prosocial-related moral reasoning of children
and adults from non-Western or less industrial cultures
may differ considerably from that of people from West-
ern cultures, especially with age; however, the pattern is
not very consistent. Carlo et al. (1996) found that
Brazilian urban adolescents used less internalized (i.e.,
higher level) prosocial moral reasoning than did adoles-
cents from the United States, although their reasoning
was similar otherwise. Kumru, Carlo, Mestre, and Sam-
per (2003) found that Turkish adolescents scored higher
than Spanish adolescents on mid-level modes of proso-
cial moral reasoning (i.e., needs-oriented and stereo-
typic), whereas Spanish adolescents scored higher on
both lower ( hedonistic and approval oriented) and
higher (internalized) types of moral reasoning. When
justifying hypothetical moral decisions involving oth-
ers needs, Ma (1989) found that English adolescents
were more oriented to their own survival and less to be-
longingness and to affective and altruistic motives than
were Chinese adolescents from Hong Kong and main-
land China. However, Stewart and McBride-Chang
(2000) found no differences in Western Caucasian and
Asian (mostly Chinese) second graders moral reason-
ing; and Japanese childrens prosocial moral reasoning
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 665
resembled that of children from urbanized Western cul-
tures (although there are some differences; Munekata &
Ninomiya, 1985). In the one study of a nonindustrial,
traditional sample, Tietjen (1986) found that although
younger Maisen children from Papua New Guinea dif-
fered little in their prosocial moral reasoning from chil-
dren in Western cultures, Maisen adults moral
reasoning was less sophisticated than that of Western
adults. Maisen adults reasoning, however, was probably
appropriate for a small traditional society in which oth-
ers physical and psychological needs, costs for proso-
cial behavior, and pragmatic concerns are paramount to
everyday life.
Making cross-cultural comparisons can be difficult
because cultures differ considerably in their valuing of
different types of prosocial action. Hindu Indians
viewed prosocial behavior performed because of reci-
procity considerations as more moral than did American
adults (Miller & Bersoff, 1994). Further, Middle East-
ern third graders in Israel seemed to value requested
acts of consideration more, and spontaneous acts less,
than did Israeli Jewish children of Western heritage (Ja-
cobsen, 1983). Thus, Westerners may value prosocial
acts that appear to be based on endogenous motivation
more than do people from traditional cultures whereas
people from traditional cultures value prosocial actions
that reflect responsiveness to others stated needs and
reciprocal obligations.
Family structure, socialization within the family, and
socialization by peers and in the schools may augment or
counteract cultural influences. However, the existing re-
search has limitations, including an overreliance on par-
ents reports of the childs prosocial proclivities and of
their own socialization practices or style, the use of
very brief observations to measure behavior (which may
not be generalizable), and a dearth of data from fathers
and from minority and non-Western populations. It is
likely that the relations of aspects of parental control
and punitiveness to developmental outcomes (including
prosocial and moral development) vary somewhat across
cultures (Trommsdorff & Kornadt, 2003). Further, most
of the work is correlational; thus, causal relations cannot
be ascertained. The prevailing view of socialization is
that the parent-child relationship is complex, bidirec-
tional, and transactional in influence (Bugental &
Grusec, Chapter 7, this Handbook, this volume), and this
relation is embedded in the macro environment (e.g.,
family, neighborhood, culture). However, this complex-
ity generally is not reflected in the existing empirical re-
search on the socialization of prosocial behavior.
Demographic Features of Families and
Family Members
Intuitively, one might expect childrens prosocial behav-
ior to be related to the socioeconomic status (SES) of
their families. Poorer children might be expected to
horde scarce resources or, due to increased demand for
participation in caregiving chores, to be relatively help-
ful and likely to comfort others in distress (see Whiting
& Whiting, 1975).
Findings are inconsistent about the relation of indices
of socioeconomic status such as family income or
parental education to most types of prosocial behavior
(Laible, Carlo, & Raffaelli, 2000; see Eisenberg &
Fabes, 1998). However, many of the relevant studies in-
clude relatively few study participants. In a large study
in England, factors such as social support for parents,
favorable housing, and fewer transitions in maternal
partner relationships, in addition to higher maternal ed-
ucation, higher family income, and low levels of finan-
cial problems, were associated with higher levels of
mother-reported prosocial behavior for school-age chil-
dren ( but less so for 4-year-old younger siblings; Dunn
et al., 1998). Furthermore, findings are consistent for
adolescents volunteering behavior. In a large study of
volunteerism among at-risk adolescents, family poverty
was negatively associated with males involvement in
volunteering and community activity (Lichter, Shana-
han, & Gardner, 2002); a similar relation was obtained
for both sexes in another large study involving a more
representative sample (Hart, Atkins, & Ford, 1998) and
in other studies on volunteering in the United States
(Huebner & Mancini, 2003; Lichter et al., 2002; Na-
tional Center for Education Statistics, 1997; Uggen &
Janikula, 1999; Youniss, McLellan, Su, & Yates, 1999)
and Hong Kong (Chou, 1998). Nonetheless, most of
these relations are modest in magnitude.
Findings on the relation of family structure and fam-
ily size to prosocial behavior are mixed. Rehberg and
Richman (1989) found that preschool boys from father-
absent homes comforted ( but did not help) a peer more
than did girls and boys from two-parent homes. Other
researchers have not found effects of father absence on
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666 Prosocial Development
measures of prosocial responding (Call, Mortimer, &
Shanahan, 1995; Dunn et al., 1998), and some re-
searchers have found that adolescents in two-parent
families volunteer more than those in one-parent homes
(Huebner & Mancini, 2003; Keith et al., 1990; Lichter
et al., 2002; Youniss et al., 1999). Investigators have
found that family size and prosocial behavior or sympa-
thy are unrelated (e.g., Chou, 1998; Gelfand, Hartmann,
Cromer, Smith, & Page, 1975); that children in a large
family volunteer more (Zaff, Moore, Papillo, &
Williams, 2003); and that children with siblings are less
likely to help in an emergency situation (Staub, 1971b)
or to comfort a peer (Rehberg & Richman, 1989). Staub
speculated that children from small families are more
self-assured and, consequently, are more likely to take
initiative and intervene spontaneously to help someone
else. In contrast, children in larger families, perhaps due
to the need to engage in chores, are particularly likely to
learn everyday helping and sharing behaviors. Consis-
tent with this reasoning, Weissbrod (1976) found that
large family size was related to slower helping in an
emergency but higher levels of generosity.
Findings concerning ordinal position are few and
limited in scope. Firstborn children, particularly girls,
have been found to be more willing than their peers to
give commodities to peers (Sharma, 1988) and to inter-
vene in an emergency (Staub, 1971b). Moreover, older
siblings, compared with younger siblings, more often be-
have prosocially in sibling interactions (Bryant &
Crockenberg, 1980; Dunn & Munn, 1986; Furman &
Buhrmester, 1985; Stoneman, Brody, & MacKinnon,
1986; Whiting & Whiting, 1975), perhaps due in part to
their older age (rather than ordinal position per se) and
their greater engagement in chores and caregiving that
provide opportunities for prosocial behavior (de Guz-
man, Edwards, & Carlo, 2005). Other investigators have
found no relation between birth order and measures of
prosocial responding (e.g., Gelfand et al., 1975; Rhein-
gold, Hay, & West, 1976) or sympathy (Wise & Cramer,
1988), or have obtained mixed findings (Eisenberg,
Fabes, Karbon, Murphy, Carlo, et al., 1996). In general,
older children seem to be somewhat more prosocial, es-
pecially in their actual (rather than reported) prosocial
behavior and in interactions with younger children.
Parental Socialization Style and Practices
Many investigators have examined the relations of par-
enting style and a range of specific socialization prac-
tices to childrens prosocial behavior and empathy/sym-
Parental Warmth and Quality of the
Parent-Child Relationship
Intuitively, it would seem that warm, supportive social-
izers would rear prosocial children. However, support
for this assumption is mixed. In some studies, a positive
relation between an index of maternal warmth/support
or sensitivity (often versus negativity) and childrens
and adolescents prosocial or empathic/sympathetic re-
sponding has been obtained, at least for some measures
(Asbury et al., 2003; Bryant & Crockenberg, 1980;
Deater-Deckard, Dunn, et al., 2001; Dunn et al., 2002;
Eberly et al., 1993; Eberly & Montemayor, 1998; Kiang
et al., 2004; Janssens & Dekovic, 1997; Janssens & Ger-
ris, 1992; Krevans & Gibbs, 1996; Laible & Carlo,
2004; Lerner et al., 2005; Robinson, Zahn-Waxler, &
Emde, 1994; Strayer & Roberts, 2004b; Zahn-Waxler
et al., 1979; also see Shek & Ma, 2001). In contrast,
other investigators have failed to obtain evidence of a re-
lation between parental warmth (or rejection) and chil-
drens prosocial behavior or empathy/sympathy (Eberly
& Montemayor, 1999; Iannotti et al., 1992; Kienbaum,
Volland, & Ulich, 2001; Koestner et al., 1990; Stewart &
McBride-Chang, 2000; Turner & Harris, 1984) or have
found very different relations of parental support with
childrens prosocial behavior and sympathy (Carlo,
Roesch, & Melby, 1998). Sometimes the relation of
parental warmth to childrens prosocial responding has
been weak and only significant through mediation; for
example, Zhou et al. (2002) found that the relation of
parental warmth to elementary school students facial
and self-reported empathy was indirect through its posi-
tive relation with parental expressions of positive emo-
tion in contexts involving others emotions (especially
others positive emotions).
Support for the role of parental nurturance or warmth
can be gleaned from several other bodies of data. Par-
ents report of childrens helpfulness is higher for ado-
lescents who share more time and activities with their
parents (Eberly & Montemayor, 1998) and when fathers
in two-parent families are more involved in child care
(Bernadett-Shapiro et al., 1996). A study in which par-
enting was assessed with observations (Kochanska, For-
man, & Coy, 1999) found that maternal responsivity
(contingent, appropriate responding) to their infants at 9
( but not 14) months predicted higher levels of toddlers
empathy/prosocial responsiveness at 22 months (cf. van
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 667
der Mark et al., 2002). Moreover, Spinrad (1999) found
that observed maternal sensitivity to their infants at 10
months was positively related to toddlers concerned at-
tention at 18 months of age to adults feigned distress.
Further, Clark and Ladd (2000) found that parental con-
nectedness (including mutual parent-child positive en-
gagement, warmth, intimacy, and happy emotional tone,
as well as reciprocity) was positively related to kinder-
gartners teacher-reported prosocial tendencies.
There also is limited evidence that children with se-
cure attachments to their mothers at a young age are
more sympathetic at 3.5 years of age (Waters, Hay, &
Richters, 1986) and display more prosocial behavior and
concern for others at approximately age 5 years (Ian-
notti et al., 1992; Kestenbaum, Farber, & Sroufe, 1989).
In a study with 22-month-old children, the relation be-
tween attachment and empathy/sympathy was positive
but weak and somewhat inconsistent (Van der Mark
et al., 2002). Moreover, adolescents reports of attach-
ment to their parents have been associated with Turkish
early adolescents empathy/ sympathy/perspective tak-
ing (Kumru & Edwards, 2003), middle or late adoles-
cents sympathy/perspective taking and prosocial
behavior (Laible, Carlo, & Roesch, 2004; Markiewicz,
Doyle, & Brendgen, 2001), and parents reports of ado-
lescents helpfulness (Eberly & Montemayor, 1998), al-
beit not in all studies (de Guzman & Carlo, 2004; Eberly
& Montemayor, 1999), and not across 2 years time
(Laible, Carlo, & Raffaelli, 2000). Because securely at-
tached offspring tend to have sensitive and warm par-
ents, the finding of a relation between the security of
childrens attachments and their prosocial tendencies is
indirect support for an association between parental
warmth and childrens prosocial development.
Why might children with warm parents and secure
attachments be more prosocial? Waters et al. (1986)
suggested that children with secure attachments differ-
entially attend to their parent, are positively oriented to
the parent, are familiar with and reproduce parents ac-
tions, and are responsive to parental control and wish to
avoid parental censure. These tendencies would be ex-
pected to enhance the effectiveness of parents attempts
to encourage prosocial behavior. Staub (1992) also ar-
gued that the quality of early attachments is important
to the development of a sense of connection to others
and positive valuing of other peopletwo characteris-
tics with conceptual links to intrinsically based caring
for other people (also see Oliner & Oliner, 1988).
Nonetheless, in families in which the child or parent has
significant psychological problems, the link between at-
tachment and prosocial behavior or empathy/sympathy
may vary in a complex manner (e.g., Radke-Yarrow,
Zahn-Waxler, Richardson, Susman, & Martinez, 1994).
It is likely that the degree of association between
childrens prosocial responding and parental warmth is
moderated by other socialization practices. Dekovic and
Janssens (1992) found that democratic parenting, in-
volving parental warmth and support, combined with in-
ductions, demandingness, and the provision of
suggestions, information, and positive comments, was
associated with Dutch childrens prosocial behavior as
reported by teachers and peers (also see Janssens &
Dekovic, 1997). Similarly, Robinson et al. (1994) found
that mothers who were relatively negative and control-
ling had children who tended to decrease rather than in-
crease in empathy from 14 to 20 months of age (for
those moderate or high in empathy at 14 months). More-
over, as discussed in the section on modeling, socializ-
ers who are nurturant and model prosocial behavior
seem to promote costly prosocial behavior in children
(e.g., Yarrow & Scott, 1972; Yarrow, Scott, & Waxler,
1973). Nurturance may serve as a background or contex-
tual variable that enhances the childs receptivity to
parental influence, including parental inductions,
preachings, and moral standards (Hoffman, 1970).
A disciplinary practice of particular importance in the
study of prosocial behavior is parental induction (i.e.,
verbal discipline in which the socializer gives explana-
tions or reasons for requiring the child to change his or
her behavior; Hoffman, 1970). Hoffman (2000) argued
that inductions are likely to promote moral development
because they induce an optimal level of arousal for
learning (i.e., elicit the childs attention, but are un-
likely to disrupt learning). Further, inductions are not
likely to be viewed as arbitrary by the child and thereby
induce resistance; rather, they focus childrens attention
on the consequences of their behavior for others, thereby
capitalizing on childrens capacity to empathize and ex-
perience guilt. Hoffman further suggested that over
time, inductive messages are experienced as internal-
ized because the child plays an active role in processing
the information (which is encoded and integrated with
information contained in other inductions) and the focus
is on the childs action and its consequences rather than
on the parent as the disciplinary agent. Thus, over time,
children are likely to remember the causal link between
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668 Prosocial Development
their actions and consequences for others rather than the
external pressure or the specific disciplinary context.
Investigators usually have tried to assess the degree
to which parents use inductions as a general mode of
discipline, not simply to promote prosocial behavior (as
for experimental studies on preaching). Inductions vary
in their content: They can appeal to justice, including
fairness of the consequences of the childs behavior for
another; appeal to legitimate authorities; or provide mat-
ter-of-fact, nonmoralistic information. In addition, in-
ductions may be focused on the consequences of the
childs behavior for either the parent or for the other
person involved in the situation (often called peer-ori-
ented inductions). Hoffman (1970b) argued that peer-
oriented inductions are likely to be most effective
because they are most apt to induce sympathy.
There is support for an association between parental
use of inductions and childrens prosocial tendencies,
although significant findings often have been obtained
for one sex, age, or socioeconomic status group, or for
one measure of prosocial behavior (or empathy/sympa-
thy), and not another. Nonetheless, positive associations
have been found in studies in which the type of reason-
ing was not specified (Bar-Tal, Nadler, & Blechman,
1980; Dlugokinski & Firestone, 1974; Feshbach, 1978;
Janssens & Gerris, 1992; Oliner & Oliner, 1988; cf.
Trommsdorff, 1991), as well as in those in which
parental inductions focused on peers or others feelings
or states (Hoffman, 1975; Karylowski, 1982; Krevans &
Gibbs, 1996; Stanhope, Bell, & Parker-Cohen, 1987).
Victim-oriented discipline seems to enhance the level of
childrens interpersonal understanding (e.g., perspec-
tive taking), which is associated with higher guilt, in-
cluding concern about harm to another (De Veer &
Janssens, 1994). Further, inductions that emphasize how
others (including the parent) react to childrens behavior
have been found to predict higher levels of prosocial be-
havior (Krevans & Gibbs, 1996). Stewart and McBride-
Chang (2000) found that parental emphasis on the
effects of the childs misbehavior in the family and what
others think of the child was positively related to the
anonymous donations of Asian children in Hong Kong.
The tone in which inductions are delivered often may
contribute to their effectiveness, particularly with
young children. Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, and King
(1979) noted that maternal use of affectively charged
explanations, particularly those that included moraliz-
ing, was associated with toddlers prosocial behavior in
the second and 3rd years of life. Explanations delivered
without affect were not effective, perhaps because the
toddlers were unlikely to attend or to think that their
mother was serious. Similarly, Miller, Eisenberg, Fabes,
Shell, and Gular (1989) found that inductions regarding
peers were positively related to childrens sad reactions
to viewing others in distress and, when delivered by
mothers with affective intensity, to low levels of facial
distress (an index of personal distress rather than sym-
pathy). However, parental inductions delivered in situa-
tions involving relatively high degrees of anger,
particularly inductions that are guilt-inducing, seem to
be associated with low levels of preschoolers parent-di-
rected prosocial behavior (Denham, Renwick-DeBardi,
& Hewes, 1994).
The configuration of parenting practices appears to
influence the effectiveness of inductions. They are
likely to be more effective at promoting prosocial be-
havior or empathy when verbalized by parents who typ-
ically do not use power-assertive (punitive) techniques
(Hoffman, 1963; also see Dlugokinski & Firestone,
1974) or are part of a pattern of democratic or authori-
tative parenting (Dekovic & Janssens, 1992; Janssens &
Gerris, 1992).
Some of the inconsistency in the findings on induc-
tions may stem from a failure by researchers to assess
critical dimensions of parental messages. Grusec and
Goodnow (1994) argued that internalization of parental
messages likely depends on childrens accurate percep-
tion of the message (including its content, the rules im-
plied in the message, and the parents intentions and
investment in the message) and childrens acceptance of
it. They suggested that the clarity, redundancy, and con-
sistency of the message, as well as its fit to the childs
developmental level, influence childrens accurate per-
ception of the message. Children are more likely to ac-
cept the message if they perceive it as appropriate, find
it motivating (e.g., if it arouses empathy or insecurity),
and believe that the value inherent in the message is self-
generated. Grusec and Goodnow also hypothesized that
parental responsivity or past willingness to comply with
the childs wishes promotes the childs willingness to
comply with the parents wishes. Thus, it may be pro-
ductive to examine the clarity of parents messages and
variables related to childrens acceptance of the mes-
sage as moderators of the relation between parental in-
ductions and childrens prosocial behavior.
Power-Assertive, Punitive Techniques of Discipline
Researchers generally have found that socializers use
of power-assertive techniques of discipline such as phys-
ical punishment or deprivation of privileges is either un-
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 669
related (e.g., Janssens & Gerris, 1992; Kochanska et al.,
1999; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow & King, 1979) or
negatively related to childrens prosocial behavior (As-
bury, Dunn, Pike, & Plomin, 2003; Bar-Tal, Nadler,
et al., 1980; Deater-Deckard, Dunn, et al., 2001; Dlu-
gokinski & Firestone, 1974; Krevans & Gibbs, 1996),
empathy (Janssens & Gerris, 1992; Krevans & Gibbs,
1996), or sympathy (Spinrad et al., 1999). Likewise, a
punitive, authoritarian parenting style has been unre-
lated (Iannotti, Cummings, Pierrehumbert, Milano, &
Zahn-Waxler, 1992; Russell et al., 2003, for mothers;
also see Diener & Kim, 2004) or negatively related
(Dekovic & Janssens, 1992; Hastings et al., 2000; Rus-
sell et al., 2003, for fathers) to childrens prosocial be-
havior and sympathy, and its negative relation with
sympathy may increase with age (Hastings et al., 2000).
Moreover, physical abuse of children has been linked to
low levels of childrens empathy and prosocial behavior
(Howes & Eldredge, 1985; Main & George, 1985; Miller
& Eisenberg, 1988; see Koenig, Cicchetti, & Rogosch,
2004, for mixed findings).
Nonetheless, there is a difference between the occa-
sional, measured use of power-assertive techniques in
the context of a positive parent-child relationship and
the use of punishment as the preferred, predominant
mode of discipline. Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe re-
ported that the punishment they had received from their
parents was not a routine response and was linked to
specific behaviors rather than used gratuitously (Oliner
& Oliner, 1988). Further, Miller et al. (1989) found that
maternal report of using physical techniques (including
physical punishment) was positively associated with
preschoolers empathic sadness when viewing others in
distress, but only for children whose mothers also used
relatively high levels of inductive discipline (cf. Hoff-
man, 1963).
Punishment can induce immediate compliance with
socializers expectations for prosocial behavior if the
socializer monitors the childs behavior (Morris, Mar-
shall, & Miller, 1973), particularly if the contingency
between lack of prosocial behavior and punishment is
specified (Hartmann et al., 1976). However, these ef-
fects often extinguish when punishment is removed
(Hartmann et al., 1976), and children tend to attribute
prosocial behavior induced by power-assertive tech-
niques to external motives such as fear of detection or
punishment (Dix & Grusec, 1983; Smith, Gelfand, Hart-
mann, & Partlow, 1979). Nonetheless, social disap-
proval, unlike material punishment (e.g., fines for not
helping), has been positively associated with childrens
attributing their own donating to internal motives
(Smith et al., 1979). Thus, it is possible that social dis-
approval (verbal punishment) can be used to enhance in-
ternally motivated prosocial behavior; indeed, maternal
expressions of disappointment have been linked to
greater prosocial behavior (Stewart & McBride-Chang,
2000). Although most middle-class mothers in Western
cultures such as the United States rarely use punishment
(especially physical punishment) to induce helping or in
response to childrens failure to help (Grusec, 1991;
Zahn-Waxler et al., 1979), this may be less true in Asian
societies (see Stewart & McBride-Chang, 2000).
Appropriate versus Inappropriate Parental Control
Perhaps the critical issue when thinking about parental
punishment and control is whether the degree of power
asserted by the parent is perceived as excessive and ar-
bitrary versus reasonable in the given context or culture.
Parental demands and expectations for socially respon-
sible and moral behavior (often expressed in an authori-
tative parenting style) have been associated with
socially responsible and prosocial behavior (e.g.,
Dekovic & Janssens, 1992; Janssens & Gerris, 1992;
Janssens & Dekovic, 1997; Lidner-Gunnoe, Hethering-
ton, & Reiss; 1999), adolescents endorsement of caring
values (Pratt, Hunsberger, Pancer, & Alisat, 2003), and
caring moral reasoning (Pratt, Skoe, & Arnold, 2004).
In contrast, strict, rejecting control has been linked to
low levels of sympathy (Laible & Carlo, 2004). Some-
what related, in Western cultures, parental emphasis on
adolescents autonomy also has been linked with proso-
cial development (Bar-Tal, Nadler, et al., 1980; Pratt
et al., 2004); this relation may hold less in early child-
hood (Clark & Ladd, 2000). In Asian cultures that em-
phasize parental training and filial piety (Stewart et al.,
1998), training of this sort was associated with anony-
mous prosocial behavior, whereas restrictive control was
marginally, negatively related (Stewart & McBride-
Chang, 2000). Other researchers have found a positive
association between appropriate parental control (rather
than leniency) and childrens empathy (Bryant, 1987) or
girls ( but not boys) sympathy years later in adulthood
(Koestner, Franz, & Weinberger, 1990). Analogously,
parental monitoring of adolescents activities was posi-
tively related to adolescents volunteerism in large sur-
vey research (Huebner & Mancini, 2003; Zaff et al.,
2003). For middle-class families, parental demands for
prosocial behavior appear to be part of a child-rearing
pattern in which mature behavior is expected (Green-
berger & Goldberg, 1989). In contrast, parental valuing
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670 Prosocial Development
of mere compliance, which often may lead to arbitrary
overcontrol, has been linked to low levels of childrens
prosocial behavior with mothers and peers (Eisenberg,
Wolchik, Goldberg, & Engel, 1992).
Parental Emphasis on Prosocial Values
Because parents who hold prosocial values would be ex-
pected to teach and model prosocial behavior, it is rea-
sonable to expect a relation between parental prosocial
values and childrens prosocial behavior. Parents reports
of holding prosocial values have been associated with
peer nominations of fifth graders prosocial behavior (in-
cluding prosocial behavior, guilt, and rule-following;
Hoffman, 1975) and older adolescents caring moral rea-
soning (Pratt et al., 2004; also see Eisenberg, Wolchik,
et al., 1992). Although some investigators have found no
evidence of a relation between parental emphasis on
prosocial responding (reported or observed) and chil-
drens prosocial behavior or empathy (Turner & Harris,
1984), others have obtained mixed (Bryant & Crocken-
berg, 1980) or positive relations (Trommsdorff, 1991)
(also see section on modeling and preachings).
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the impor-
tance of parental prosocial values comes from studies of
adults who have displayed unusual acts of altruism. Res-
cuers in Nazi Europe often recalled learning values of
caring from their parents or the other most influential
person in their lives (Oliner & Oliner, 1988; also see
Hart & Fegley, 1995; London, 1970). Rescuers reported
that their parents felt that ethical values were to be ex-
tended to all human beings. Interestingly, rescuers did
not differ from nonrescuers in reported exposure to non-
prosocial values such as honesty or equity. However,
real-life moral exemplars often solidify their values or
even develop new moral values in adulthood when inter-
acting with other adults who discuss value-related issues
and jointly engage in moral activities with the individual
(Colby & Damon, 1992). Thus, it is likely that the so-
cialization of other-oriented values, even if it begins in
ones family of origin, is a continuing dynamic process.
Because of the importance of modeling in social learn-
ing theory (e.g., Bandura, 1986), numerous researchers
have examined whether childrens prosocial behavior
varies as a function of exposure to prosocial versus self-
ish models. Much of the relevant research has been con-
ducted in laboratory studies using strangers or brief
acquaintances as models and donating as the index of
prosocial behavior. Thus, the generalizability of much of
the laboratory research to real-life settings involving fa-
miliar models and to other types of prosocial actions can
be questioned. The experimental laboratory literature is
supplemented by a smaller body of work, often correla-
tional in design, in which real-life situations and famil-
iar models have been used; and similar results have been
obtained in these studies.
In the prototypic laboratory study of modeling proso-
cial behavior, children earn prizes, tokens, or money by
winning a game, view or do not view a model, and then
are provided an opportunity to donate to needy children
or to children who did not get to play the game. Because
this topic was reviewed in considerable detail in Eisen-
berg and Fabes (1998) and there have been few new
studies since 1998, this work is briefly summarized
here. In general, children who view a generous model or
helpful model are more generous or helpful than those
exposed to a control condition (often a model who had
no opportunity to donate; e.g., Rice & Grusec, 1975;
Rushton & Littlefield, 1979; Rushton & Teachman,
1978) or a selfish model (e.g., Bryan & Walbek, 1970;
Rushton, 1975). Further, multiple models may be more
effective than inconsistent models for inducing precise
imitation of donating (Wilson, Piazza, & Nagle, 1990).
In most laboratory studies of modeling, prosocial be-
havior is modeled only once; thus, it is impressive that
some investigators have obtained evidence of general-
ization to new behaviors or settings (Midlarsky &
Bryan, 1967; Rushton, 1975), although others have not
(Rushton & Littlefield, 1979; Rushton & Teachman,
1978). Further, investigators have found effects of mod-
eling days to months later (Israel & Raskin, 1979; Rice
& Grusec, 1975; Rushton, 1975; Rushton & Littlefield,
1979; Wilson et al., 1990).
Adults who control valued resources (Grusec, 1971)
appear to be relatively powerful models, as are models
perceived as competent (Eisenberg-Berg & Geisheker,
1979). Moreover, nurturant prosocial models whom
children have just met seem to promote prosocial behav-
ior when the prosocial behavior is not costly and is
something they probably want to do (e.g., help when they
hear someone in distress; Weissbrod, 1976; also see
Staub, 1971a). In contrast, when prosocial behavior in-
volves self-denial (e.g., donations), short-term exposure
to a warm model seems to have little effect or may even
reduce donating behavior (Grusec, 1971; Midlarsky &
Bryan, 1967; Weissbrod, 1976). Thus, short-term non-
contingent warmth seems to disinhibit children to do as
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 671
they please, including assisting distressed others as well
as keeping valued commodities for themselves. How-
ever, in the classroom context in which warmth probably
is not entirely noncontingent, preschool children model
the prosocial behaviors and nurturance of adults with
whom they have had a relatively extended nurturant re-
lationship (Yarrow & Scott, 1972; Yarrow et al., 1973).
In addition to the laboratory studies, investigators
have examined whether children appear to model real-
life socializers such as parents. In the first 2 years of
life, children do not seem to consistently model mater-
nal sharing or helping of a distressed person (Hay &
Murray, 1982; Zahn-Waxler et al., 1979). However,
mothers modeling of helping behaviors (such as partic-
ipation in household chores) seems to enhance the likeli-
hood of 1- and 2-year-olds helping with similar tasks
(Rheingold, 1982). Moreover, the data on real-life altru-
ists suggest an effect of parental modeling. Youth volun-
teerism has been found to be related to the degree to
which their parents volunteer; moreover, the types of
voluntary activities chosen by youths tend to be similar
to those of their parents (e.g., in providing a social ser-
vice or working for a cause; Keith et al., 1990; McLellan
& Youniss, 2003; National Center for Education Statis-
tics, 1997; also see Hart & Fegley, 1995; Janoski &
Wilson, 1995; Stukas, Switzer, Dew, Goycoolea, &
Simmons, 1999).
Consistent with the notion that parental modeling
fosters childrens prosocial tendencies, sympathetic
parents, who likely model sympathy, tend to have same-
sex elementary school children who are helpful (Fabes,
Eisenberg, & Miller, 1990) or prone to sympathy rather
than to egoistic personal distress (Eisenberg, Fabes,
Carlo, Troyer, et al., 1992; Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller,
Carlo, & Miller, 1991; Eisenberg & McNally, 1993;
Fabes et al., 1990). In contrast, links between parental
empathy (rather than sympathy) and childrens empathy
have been mixed, with some researchers obtaining posi-
tive relations (Barnett, Howard, King, & Dino, 1980;
Strayer & Roberts, 2004b; Trommsdorff, 1991) and oth-
ers obtaining no relations or inconsistent correlations
(e.g., Bernadett-Shapiro, Ehrensaft, & Shapiro, 1996;
Strayer & Roberts, 1989). Some parents prone to empa-
thy may become overly aroused and personally dis-
tressed, which would be expected to lead to lower levels
of helping in many contexts. Multiple mechanisms, in-
cluding the heritability of emotionality related to sym-
pathy or other characteristics, could explain the
significant findings that have been obtained.
In regard to high-cost real-life helping behavior,
Rosenhan (1970) found that Caucasian civil rights ac-
tivists in the late 1950s and 1960s who were highly in-
volved and committed to the cause despite considerable
danger and cost reported that their parents were both
nurturant and actively involved in working for altruistic
and humanitarian causes. In contrast, individuals who
were less involved and committed reported that their
parents preached prosocial values but often did not prac-
tice altruism. Further, rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe
described their parents as having acted in accordance
with strong moral convictions (London, 1970; Oliner &
Oliner, 1988).
The data from studies of adult altruists are not only
correlational in design but involve retrospective data.
Even if peoples recall of parental practices were unbi-
ased and accurate, it is possible that their altruism
stemmed from family factors other than modeling, such
as optimal discipline or exposure to prosocial cultural or
community values. Nonetheless, research findings on
parents of prosocial offspring converge with the experi-
mental laboratory findings that implicate modeling in
the development of prosocial tendencies.
The verbalizations of adults relevant to prosocial behav-
ior have been examined in nondisciplinary contexts ( lab-
oratory situations in which the adult is not responding to
the childs misbehavior), as well as in disciplinary situa-
tions (e.g., inductions). In studies of the effects of
preachings or exhortations, the preacher states what
should be done (sometimes in regard to his or her own
earnings that can be donated), but does not directly and
explicitly direct the child to assist. Often the preacher
also gives reasons that one should or should not assist.
Preachers may verbalize to themselves, as if thinking
through the issue (Eisenberg-Berg & Geisheker, 1979),
or direct their preaching to the child (e.g., Bryan & Wal-
bek, 1970; Rushton, 1975). Preachings often are norma-
tive in content, with the preacher stating what should be
done and stating either prosocial or selfish norms (e.g.,
Its a nice thing [not such a nice thing] to give to the
crippled children; Bryan & Walbek, 1970). In a neutral
control group, the preacher typically would make nor-
matively neutral statements such as This game is fun.
Most researchers have found no effects, or inconsis-
tent effects, of normative preachings by nonparental
adults on childrens donating behavior (e.g., Bryan &
Walbek, 1970; cf. Zarbatany, Hartmann, & Gelfand,
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672 Prosocial Development
1985). However, normative preachings seem to foster
generosity if the preacher promoting donating is an adult
who is likely to have direct power over the children
(Eisenberg-Berg & Geisheker, 1979). In addition, empa-
thy-inducing preachings that emphasize the emotional
consequences of assisting for the recipients of aid have
been found to elicit more donating in private than do
neutral control preachings (Dlugokinski & Firestone,
1974; Eisenberg-Berg & Geisheker, 1979; Perry,
Bussey, & Freiberg, 1981; Smith, 1983) or punitive,
threatening preachings (Perry et al., 1981). Empathy-in-
ducing preachings also have been found to enhance the
effort and success of children in elementary school
when helping a peer (Ladd, Lange, & Stremmel, 1983)
and have been related to prosocial behavior in another
setting or at a later date (Grusec, Saas-Kortsaak, &
Simutis, 1978; Smith, 1983).
Not all researchers have found effects of empathy-in-
ducing preachings. The wording in some studies may
have led the children to believe that the adult or the ben-
eficiary would be angry at them for not helping, which
might evoke reactance rather than empathy (McGrath &
Power, 1990), or compliance rather than internalization.
Preachings seem to work best if children feel that they
have a choice of whether to assist and if the preachings
highlight the positive outcomes of helping for another
(Grusec, Saas-Kortsaak, & Simutis, 1978; McGrath,
Wilson, & Frassetto; 1995). Further, the results of one
study suggest that empathic preachings are effective pri-
marily for children who have been exposed to inductive
discipline at home (rather than a relatively high degree
of power assertion; Dlugokinski & Firestone, 1974).
Prompts and Directives
Children who are instructed or prompted to help or
share tend to do so (Gelfand et al., 1975; Hay & Murray,
1982; Israel & Raskin, 1979), and the effects of direc-
tive instructions have been found to persist over 11 days
(Israel & Brown, 1979) or 4 weeks (Israel & Raskin,
1979). Direct requests for prosocial behavior may be
particularly important for younger children because of
their limited abilities to understand others emotions
and situational cues (Denham, Mason, & Couchoud,
1995). However, there is evidence that constraining di-
rectives are less effective with older children than with
younger ones (White & Burnam, 1975), particularly
over time (Israel & Raskin, 1979; cf. Israel & Brown,
1979). Highly constraining instructions may induce re-
actance; moreover, after the early years, children are
unlikely to attribute forced behavior to internal reasons
and, consequently, may not enact prosocial behavior in
an unsupervised setting (see McGrath & Power, 1990).
Reinforcement for Prosocial Behavior
Consistent with learning theory, concrete (Fischer,
1963) and social (Eisenberg, Fabes, Carlo, et al., 1993;
Gelfand et al., 1975; Grusec & Redler, 1980; Rushton &
Teachman, 1978; cf. Mills & Grusec, 1989) reinforce-
ments have been found to increase childrens prosocial
behavior, at least in the immediate context. Further,
parental reports of reinforcement for childrens sympa-
thetic and prosocial behavior have been associated with
girls ( but not boys) concerned or sad reactions to oth-
ers in distress (Eisenberg, Fabes, Carlo, et al., 1992).
Although concrete rewards may induce prosocial be-
havior in the given context, the long-term effect of con-
crete rewards may be negative. Consistent with Leppers
(1983) notion that the provision of concrete rewards un-
dermines intrinsic motivation (and also may induce chil-
dren to attribute their prosocial actions to external
motivation), Szynal-Brown and Morgan (1983) found
that third-grade children who were promised tangible
rewards if the younger children they tutored did well
were less likely to engage in teaching activities during a
subsequent free-choice period than were tutors who
were not promised rewards for teaching. Those children
promised rewards that were not contingent on the pupils
learning were between the aforementioned two groups in
regard to teaching, but did not differ significantly from
either. Further, Fabes, Fultz, Eisenberg, Plumlee, and
Christopher (1989) found that the use of material re-
wards for school childrens helping behavior under-
mined their subsequent, anonymous prosocial behavior
during a free-choice situation, particularly for children
whose mothers valued the use of rewards. Moreover,
mothers who felt relatively positive about using rewards
reported that their children were less prosocial than did
mothers who were less enthusiastic about the use of re-
wards. Rewards may be salient for these children and,
consequently, they may be particularly likely to attrib-
ute their initial prosocial behavior to the external reward
(rather than to an internal motive).
The effects of social reinforcement may vary as a
function of type of praise and the age of the child. For
young children, reinforcement for prosocial behavior
does not seem to increase prosocial tendencies in an-
other setting or over time and may even undermine it
(Eisenberg, Wolchik, et al., 1992; Grusec, 1991). More-
over, praise that attributes the childrens positive behav-
ior to their dispositional kindness or internal motives
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 673
(e.g., because they enjoy helping others) appears to be
more effective than praise that simply labels the act as
positive (Grusec & Redler, 1980; Mills & Grusec, 1989;
dispositional attribution is a special type of praise and
is discussed in the following subsection). Grusec and
Redler (1980) found that social reinforcement for proso-
cial actions (without an internal attribution) increased
elementary school childrens prosocial behavior in the
immediate context; however, it was associated with the
generalization of prosocial behavior to a different,
anonymous situation only for 10-year-old children (not
for 5- or 8-year-olds). Grusec and Redler (1980) hypoth-
esized that older children may interpret reinforcement
for a specific action as having implications for a variety
of situations, whereas younger children do not view
praise for a given act as having broader relevance.
Provision of Attributions or Dispositional Praise
Elementary school children are likely to behave in a
prosocial manner on a subsequent occasion if they ini-
tially are induced to behave prosocially and are provided
with internal attributions (i.e., dispositional praise) for
their actions (e.g., I guess youre the kind of person
who likes to help others whenever you can. Yes, you are
a very nice and helpful person; Grusec & Redler,
1980). Children provided with such praise are more
helpful or generous even weeks later than are children
who are provided with no attribution (Grusec, Kuczyn-
ski, et al., 1978; Grusec & Redler, 1980; Holte, Jam-
ruszka, Gustafson, Beaman, & Camp, 1984; cf.
Eisenberg, Cialdini, McCreath, & Shell, 1987) or with
one attributing prosocial behavior to the fact that the
adult experimenter expected such behavior (Grusec,
Kuczynski, Rushton, & Simutis, 1978).
The provision of internal attributions is believed to
foster a prosocial self-image that then results in en-
hanced prosocial behavior (Grusec & Redler, 1980).
However, support for this supposition is mixed (e.g.,
Holte et al., 1984; Mills & Grusec, 1989). If changes in
childrens self-concepts mediate the effects of disposi-
tional attributions, the provision of internal attributions
would not be expected to be effective until children have
some understanding of personality traits and their sta-
bility. Consistent with this logic, Grusec and Redler
(1980) found that the provision of internal attributions
was effective in enhancing prosocial behavior both im-
mediately and long term (e.g., a week or more later) for
middle and later elementary school children, but not for
kindergartners. Further, Eisenberg, Cialdini, McCreath,
and Shell (1989) found that children in elementary
school who were induced to engage in prosocial behavior
and provided with internal attributions were more help-
ful if they demonstrated the ability to label traits accu-
rately. Thus, it is possible that an understanding of traits
is essential if internal attributions are to foster chil-
drens prosocial behavior.
Learning by Doing (and the Foot-in-the-Door Effect)
Childrens participation in prosocial activities seems to
foster prosocial behavior at a later time, although boys
sometimes may exhibit some reactance in the short-term
(Staub, 1992). This pattern of findings has been ob-
tained using both experimental procedures (Staub, 1979;
although effects may be stronger for older children;
Eisenberg, Cialdini, et al., 1987) and in research linking
prosocial proclivities to participation in household
chores (perhaps particularly those that benefit others;
Graves & Graves, 1983; Rehberg & Richman, 1989;
Whiting & Whiting, 1975; cf. Gelfand et al., 1975). In
some cultures, guided participation (Rogoff, 2003) may
be a major way in which children are socialized into a
variety of activities, including prosocial ones (Whiting
& Whiting, 1975).
In a study of 9- and 14-year-old children, Grusec,
Goodnow, and Cohen (1996) found that routine ( but not
requested) participation in household chores was related
to youths prosocial behavior in the family, but primar-
ily for older youth and girls. Routine participation in
chores was not related to helping strangers. Thus, if
chores benefit a delimited group of individuals, any
prosocial tendencies fostered may not extend to those
beyond that group.
Participation in organized youth activities and non-
voluntary service required by school programs also has
been linked to prosocial behavior, especially subsequent
volunteerism or intentions to volunteer (Metz &
Youniss, 2003; Stukas, Switzer, et al., 1999; Youniss &
Metz, 2004). In addition, adolescents and young adults
participation in voluntary community service some-
times has been linked to greater feelings of commitment
to helping others (Yates & Youniss, 1996b; see discus-
sion of these programs in the section on adolescence).
Of particular interest, Youniss and Metz (2004) found
that required school-based service was related to in-
creased volunteerism and intentions to volunteer for stu-
dents who were less inclined to participate; it had little
effect for those students who quickly completed their
requirement and went on to participate in voluntary ac-
tivities. In contrast, Stukas, Snyder, and Clary (1999)
found that mandatory volunteerism undermined college
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674 Prosocial Development
students future intentions to volunteer only for individ-
uals who otherwise would not have been volunteering
(i.e., they felt that their service was solely due to exter-
nal force) or for those who had the preexisting belief
that they would not freely choose to engage in any volun-
teer activities. For most students who are not generally
opposed to volunteer service activities and do not focus
on external pressures to engage in such activities,
mandatory service participation seems likely to in-
crease prosocial responding.
The findings on the effects of practice and compul-
sory service activities are similar to those obtained by
social psychologists studying compliance (i.e., the
foot-in-the-door effect) in adulthood. Although the
processes underlying the findings for adults are not en-
tirely clear (Burger, 1999; Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004),
a common explanation is that engaging in the initial
prosocial behavior changes the actors self-perceptions
about his or her own prosocial disposition or the actors
attitude about helpfulness. A self-concept explanation is
consistent with Eisenberg, Cialdini, et al.s (1989) find-
ing that the effects of an initial helping experience were
primarily for children with a rudimentary understanding
of trait labels ( because an understanding of traits is nec-
essary for a stable self-concept) and with Eisenberg,
Cialdini, et al.s (1987) finding that practice had an ef-
fect only for children old enough to understand consis-
tency in personality. However, there is little direct
evidence that a more sophisticated understanding of the
stability of personality is necessary for the foot-in-the-
door effect to be effective.
It also is possible that engaging in prosocial activities
enhances subsequent prosocial behavior because the ex-
perience provides empathic rewards, helping skills, and
social approval. Further, investigators have argued that
service activities can promote identity formation, a
sense of personal competence and civic responsibility,
and the adoption of prosocial norms, as well as opportu-
nities to learn about systems of meaning (e.g., about so-
ciety, social injustice; McLellan & Youniss, 2003; Yates
& Youniss, 1996a, 1996b, 1998).
Emotion Socialization
Parental practices that help children to cope with their
negative emotion in a constructive fashion tend to be
associated with childrens sympathy (rather than per-
sonal distress) and prosocial behavior. This may be
partly because children who cannot adequately cope
with their emotions tend to become overaroused and ex-
perience a self-focused, aversive response (i.e., per-
sonal distress) when confronted with anothers distress,
whereas children who can regulate their emotions tend
to experience sympathy (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy,
et al., 1994, 1996).
For example, Buck (1984) hypothesized that punitive
reactions by parents when children exhibit negative
emotion result in childrens increased arousal when they
experience negative emotion, as well as in attempts to
hide such feelings. Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller, Carlo,
and Miller (1991) found that mothers who emphasized
to their sons the need to control their own negative emo-
tions (e.g., sadness and anxiety) had sons who exhibited
facial and physiological (skin conductance and heart
rate) markers of distress when they viewed a sympathy-
inducing film, but reported low distress in reaction to
the film. Thus, these boys seemed prone to experience
distress when confronted with others distress, but ap-
peared not to want others to know what they were feel-
ing. In contrast, same-sex parents restrictiveness in
regard to emotional displays that could be hurtful to oth-
ers (e.g., gasping at a disfigured person) has been posi-
tively related to elementary school childrens reports of
dispositional and situational sympathy (Eisenberg,
Fabes, Schaller, Carlo, & Miller, 1991). Parents who
discourage their children from expressing emotions
hurtful to others may educate their children about the ef-
fects of emotional displays on others. However, maternal
restrictiveness in regard to the display of hurtful emo-
tions was associated with distress in kindergarten girls,
perhaps because mothers who were restrictive in this re-
gard with kindergarten girls were less supportive in gen-
eral. Thus, for younger children, such maternal
restrictiveness may reflect age-inappropriate restric-
tiveness or low levels of support (Eisenberg, Fabes,
et al., 1992).
Parents can also demonstrate methods of coping with
emotions or encourage the use of certain means of cop-
ing. Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller, Carlo, and Miller (1991)
found that boys whose parents encouraged them to deal
instrumentally with situations causing their own sadness
or anxiety were relatively likely to experience sympathy
rather than personal distress in empathy-inducing con-
texts. Further, parents encouragement of direct problem
solving as a way to cope with emotion has been associ-
ated with the amount that girls ( but not boys) comfort a
crying infant (Eisenberg, Fabes, Carlo, et al., 1993).
Mothers discussions of their own and their chil-
drens emotions also seem to relate to childrens vicari-
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 675
ous emotional responding. When mothers verbally
linked the events in an empathy-inducing film with chil-
drens own experiences, children exhibited heightened
vicarious emotional responding of various sorts (sad-
ness, distress, and sympathy). Further, mothers refer-
ences to their own sympathy and sadness and their
statements about perspective taking or the film protago-
nists feelings or situation were associated with boys
reports of sympathy and sadness (Eisenberg, Fabes,
Carlo, et al., 1992). In addition, mothers reports of try-
ing to find out why their child is feeling badly, helping
their children talk about negative emotions, and listen-
ing to their children when they are anxious or upset have
been associated with girls comforting of an infant
(Eisenberg, Fabes, Carlo, et al., 1993). Similarly,
Belden, Kuelbli, Pauley, and Kindleberger (2003) found
that mothers questions about their childrens emotional
reactions, states of mind, or interpretations about the
motivation for a good deed performed by their child in
the past were positively correlated with childrens self-
reported empathy. Moreover, Denham and Grout (1992)
found that preschoolers prosocial behavior at school was
positively related to mothers tendencies to explain their
own sadness, and Kojima (2000) found that young chil-
drens prosocial behaviors with their siblings were posi-
tively related to the degree to which their mothers made
reference to the siblings actions and emotional states.
The positive association between parental discussion
of emotion and prosocial tendencies has not been found
in all studies (Eisenberg, Losoya, et al., 2001; Garner,
Jones, Gaddy, & Rennie, 1997; Eisenberg, Fabes,
Schaller, Carlo, & Miller, 1991). Trommsdorff (1995)
found that German and Japanese mothers who focused
on their childs emotions in stressful situations by ver-
balizing or matching their emotions had 5-year-old
daughters who were prone to experience distress rather
than sympathy when exposed to anothers sadness.
Trommsdorff suggested that girls who experience too
strong a degree of empathy from their caretaker may ex-
perience more distress in empathy-inducing contexts be-
cause of less developed self-other differentiation.
Another possibility is that some mothers may over-
arouse their children by focusing too much on distress,
with the consequence that the children do not learn to
regulate their distress.
It is likely that the manner in which mothers talk
about emotional events partially accounts for the de-
gree and valence of the relation between maternal emo-
tion-related verbalizations and childrens empathy-
related and prosocial responding. Fabes, Eisenberg,
Karbon, Bernzweig, et al. (1994) found that mothers
displays of positive rather than negative emotion while
telling their kindergarten-age children empathy-induc-
ing stories were associated with childrens sympathy,
low personal distress, and relatively high helpfulness
on a behavioral task. Mothers displayed more of this
positive expressiveness with kindergartners if they
viewed their child as reactive to others distresses.
Thus, it appeared as if mothers were reacting to charac-
teristics of their children (i.e., age and emotional vul-
nerability) and were attempting to buffer younger and
vulnerable children from emotional overarousal (also
see Zhou et al., 2002). In contrast, for second-grade
children, helpfulness, as well as sympathy and low per-
sonal distress (assessed with physiological and facial
measures), were positively associated with a maternal
style that combined warmth with directing the childs
attention to the stories. For older children, buffering of
negative emotion may not be necessary, whereas it may
be important to direct the childs attention to others in
a way that does not induce reactance.
In brief, findings are consistent with the view that
parental practices that help children regulate their nega-
tive emotion to avoid becoming overaroused may foster
sympathy and prosocial behavior rather than personal
distress. However, there may be a fine line between the
parental practices that help children regulate and under-
stand their own emotion and the practices that overly
focus childrens attention on negative emotion. More-
over, the effects of parental emotion-related practices
likely are moderated by individual differences in chil-
drens emotional reactivity, regulation, and other as-
pects of temperament and personality.
Expression of Emotion and Conflict in the Home
Frequency and valence of emotion expressed in the
home appear to be linked to childrens prosocial behav-
ior, albeit in a complex manner. Parental expression of
positive emotion in the family tends to be positively cor-
related with childrens prosocial tendencies (Denham &
Grout, 1992; Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller, Miller, et al.,
1991; Garner, Jones, & Miner, 1994), a finding that is
consistent with the modest associations between proso-
cial behavior and parental support, warmth, and sympa-
thy. However, researchers sometimes have found no
relations between familial or maternal positive emotion
and childrens sympathy (Eisenberg, Fabes, Carlo,
Troyer, et al., 1992) or prosocial behavior (Denham &
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676 Prosocial Development
Grout, 1993). These weak relations may be due to the
relation between parental positive expressivity and
prosocial behavior or sympathy being quadratic or mod-
erated by childrens dispositional regulation. Valiente
et al. (2004) found that moderate (compared with low or
high) levels of parental positive expressivity were most
highly, positively related to childrens sympathy.
Culture also may moderate the relation between
parental expression of positive emotion and childrens
sympathy. Unlike in the United States, Eisenberg,
Liew, and Pidada (2001) did not find a relation be-
tween these two constructs in Indonesia. This finding
may not be surprising given that anthropological and
sociological reports indicate that the expression of high
levels of emotionpositive or negativeis discouraged
in that culture.
At first glance, findings about negative emotion in
the home appear inconsistent and puzzling. Conflict in
the family has been positively associated with prosocial
behavior toward family members. Even very young chil-
dren exposed to parental conflict sometimes try to com-
fort or help their parents, and this tendency increases
with age in the early years (Cummings, Zahn-Waxler, &
Radke-Yarrow, 1984). Further, siblings ( but not peers)
exposed to conflict between their mother and another
adult seem to try to buffer the stress for one another
(Cummings & Smith, 1993). Young children are more
likely to respond with prosocial behavior toward a par-
ent, as well as with anger, distress, and support-seeking,
if familial conflict is frequent (Cummings, Zahn-Waxler
& Radke-Yarrow, 1981) or is physical in nature (Cum-
mings, Pellegrini, & Notarius, 1989).
Other investigators have examined the relation of
prosocial tendencies to reported prevalence of hostile,
negative emotion in the home environment or maternal
simulations of anger situations. Some investigators have
not found significant relations between mothers reports
of dominant negative affect or their own anger directed
toward the child and childrens observed prosocial be-
haviors (Garner & Estep, 2001; Garner, Jones, & Miner,
1994; also see Hastings et al., 2000). In contrast, Den-
ham and her colleagues found that preschoolers real-life
prosocial reactions to their peers emotional displays
were negatively related to mothers reports of the fre-
quency of their own anger at home (Denham & Grout,
1992) and intense maternal simulations of anger (when
enacting events in a photograph; Denham et al., 1994),
and were positively related to mothers reports of the ra-
tional expressions of anger (Denham & Grout, 1992).
Similarly, high levels of familial or maternal dominant
negative emotion (e.g., anger) have been linked to low
levels of sympathetic concern and high levels of per-
sonal distress, both in the United States (Crockenberg,
1985; Eisenberg, Fabes, Carlo, et al., 1992) and in In-
donesia (Eisenberg, Liew, & Pidada, 2001).
To summarize, Cummings and his colleagues found
that exposure to conflict involving one or both parents,
including ongoing conflict in the home, was related to
increased prosocial reactions toward childrens mothers
and siblings ( but not peers; Cummings & Smith, 1993);
whereas in other studies, reports and displays of mater-
nal anger and externalizing emotion tend to be associ-
ated with low levels of peer-directed prosocial behavior
and sympathy, as well as high levels of personal distress.
Perhaps exposure to adult conflict undermines chil-
drens emotional security and induces distress, resulting
in children coping in ways that are likely to minimize
the stress in their social environment (see Davies &
Cummings, 1994). Because children frequently cannot
readily escape from conflict in the home, they may at-
tempt to alleviate their distress by intervening and com-
forting family members. However, children exposed to
high intensity or ongoing parental anger may become
overaroused by others negative emotions and experi-
ence self-focused personal distress in reaction to oth-
ers negative emotion (see Eisenberg et al., 1994). If this
were true, they would be expected to try to escape from
dealing with others distress if possible. Exposure to
high levels of anger and conflict may induce attempts by
children to minimize self-related negative emotional
(and physical) consequences of conflict but likely does
not foster the capacity for sympathy or other-oriented
(rather than self-oriented) prosocial behavior.
Another reason for the inconsistency in the general
pattern of findings for parental expression of dominant
(assertive) negative emotion may be that the relation be-
tween parental expression of dominant negative emotion
in the family and childrens sympathy appears to be
quadratic, with moderate levels of expressivity being
most highly associated with childrens sympathy (Va-
liente et al., 2004). Valiente and colleagues also found a
quadratic relation such that childrens personal distress
was higher for mean and high levels of parental negative
expressivity than for low parental negative expressivity.
In addition, the relation of parental negative expressivity
to childrens sympathy appears to be moderated by chil-
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 677
drens regulation. Valiente and colleagues found a signif-
icant negative relation between situational sympathy and
parents negative expressivity, but only for children high
in regulation. Furthermore, for children who were mod-
erate or low in regulation, dispositional personal distress
was relatively high regardless of the level of parental ex-
pression of negative emotion, whereas for well-regulated
children, personal distress was low when parents ex-
pressed little negative emotion but increased with the
level of parental expression of negative emotion.
Negative emotions need not always be harsh and dom-
inant; often emotions such as sadness, fear, and loss are
expressed in the home. The findings about the relation
between the childrens exposure to parents softer nega-
tive emotions and their prosocial tendencies are incon-
sistent. In studies of children from typical families,
maternal report of such submissive negative emotion has
been negatively related to childrens caregiving toward a
younger sibling (Garner, Jones, & Miner, 1994), posi-
tively related to girls ( but not boys) sympathy in the
United States (Eisenberg, Fabes, Carlo, Troyer, et al.,
1992), and negatively related to Indonesian childrens
sympathy (Eisenberg, Liew, & Pidada, 2001). Further,
preschoolers prosocial reactions to peers emotions
have been related to mothers low rather than high inten-
sity enacted sadness (Denham et al., 1994). In contrast,
childrens peer-oriented prosocial actions have not been
significantly related to frequency of mothers reported
expressions of sadness or tension at home in front of
their child (Denham & Grout, 1992) or mothers reports
of experiencing internalizing negative emotions (Den-
ham & Grout, 1993).
Findings about maternal depression are also mixed.
Maternal depression has been linked to lower levels of
childrens prosocial behavior in general (Dunn et al.,
1998), to lower mother- (and, to a lesser degree, teacher-
) reported prosocial behavior but higher child-reported
prosocial behavior (Hay & Pawlby, 2003), and to higher
empathy or prosocial behavior for some children in some
circumstances (Radke-Yarrow et al., 1994; Zahn-
Waxler, Cummings, McKnew, & Radke-Yarrow, 1984).
Perhaps what is important is whether such emotion is
dealt with constructively in the home and if children
learn ways to manage emotions such as sadness so that
they are likely to experience sympathy rather than per-
sonal distress when exposed to others negative emo-
tion. Denham and Grout (1992) found that mothers
reported expressions of tension or fear and sadness at
home were positively related to childrens peer-oriented
prosocial behavior if mothers expressed their tension in
a positive manner or explained their sadness.
Summary of Research on Adults Socialization-
Relevant Practices, Beliefs, and Styles
A constellation of parental practices, beliefs, and char-
acteristics, as well as the emotional atmosphere of the
home, seems to be related to childrens prosocial devel-
opment. The findings generally are consistent with
Staubs (1992, 2003) assertion that the development of
prosocial behavior is enhanced by a sense of connection
to others (e.g., through attachment and a benign social
environment), exposure to parental warmth (which fos-
ters a positive identity and sense of self as well as at-
tachment), adult guidance, and participation in
prosocial activities. Moreover, parents coaching and
other behaviors that teach children to understand and
regulate their emotions also are likely related to sympa-
thetic capacities.
Although it is likely that the social environment of
children, especially their parents, has a causal effect on
prosocial behavior and empathy-related responding,
heredity may partially account for such relations, espe-
cially when predicting aspects of prosociality based on
the experience of empathic emotion (see Caspi &
Shiner, Chapter 6, this Handbook, this volume). It is pos-
sible that prosocial, sympathetic parents have prosocial
children because of shared genetic predispositions to-
ward regulation and emotionality. Moreover, biologi-
cally based dispositions (e.g., as partly reflected in
temperament) undoubtedly play a major role in em-
pathic and prosocial functioning. However, Plomin et al.
(1993) found that nonshared (unique) environmental ex-
perience accounted for some consistency and for the
substantial degree of change in twins empathy over the
early years of life. Similarly, as discussed, there is evi-
dence of shared and especially unshared environmental
variance in the prediction of empathy-related respond-
ing and prosocial behavior (e.g., Deater-Deckard, Dunn,
et al., 2001; Zahn-Waxler et al., 2001). For example, dif-
ferences in parenting (i.e., warmth versus harsh parent-
ing) partly explain differences in the prosocial behavior
of monozygotic twins, especially for parents who treat
their twins quite differently (Asbury et al., 2003; also
see Deater-Deckard, Pike, et al., 2001). Further, genetic
explanations cannot account for findings in experimental
studies in which parents were not involved (e.g., many of
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678 Prosocial Development
the studies on modeling, preaching, attributions for
helping, directives, and learning by doing). In brief, al-
though biological factors, including genetics, play a
major role in prosocial development, environmental fac-
tors also play an important role and undoubtedly interact
with biological factors.
Most researchers who have studied socialization cor-
relates of prosocial responding have taken into account
only the effects of parental behaviors and characteristics
on children; the role of the childrens behavior and char-
acteristics in the socialization process has been virtually
ignored. Yet, as was demonstrated by Valiente et al.
(2004), it is highly likely that childrens personality and
temperament influences interact with parental charac-
teristics and beliefs in determining the quality of the
parent-child relationship and parental socialization ef-
forts. Consistent with the possibility of child effects,
adults use more reasoning about the consequences of ac-
tions and less bargaining with material rewards to induce
prosocial behavior for children who are responsive and
attentive than for children who are not (Keller & Bell,
1979). The role of the child and dyadic processes (e.g.,
mutual parent-child responsivity) in the socialization of
prosocial behaviors is a key topic for further attention.
Other Familial and Extrafamilial Inf luences
People and institutions other than parents in childrens
environments are potential socializers of childrens
prosocial actions. Research on the role of nonparental
influences is still in the rudimentary stages, and re-
searchers studying environmental influences seldom
have simultaneously examined multiple familial models
(including multiple family members) or multiple types
of potential socializers (e.g., peers and the school con-
text). (For a discussion of the effects of television, see
Huston & Wright, 1998).
Because siblings are familiar and relatively uninhibited
with one another, they would be expected to play a con-
siderable role in the development of childrens social un-
derstanding and interpersonal skills, including prosocial
behavior (Dunn & Munn, 1986). Even 1- to 2-year-old
children exhibit prosocial behavior toward their siblings
(Dunn & Kendrick, 1982). Preschool-age children enact
relatively high rates of comforting behavior to dis-
tressed younger siblings (Howe & Ross, 1990; Stewart &
Marvin, 1984), but show relatively low rates of respon-
siveness to unfamiliar younger children (Berman &
Goodman, 1984).
Because older siblings often act as caregivers to
younger siblings, the sibling relationship provides chil-
dren with opportunities to learn about others needs and
caring effectively for others. In addition, children with
supportive sibling relationships may be less preoccupied
with their own feelings of distress, so that they are bet-
ter able to attend to and understand the feelings and
need states of otherspromoting prosocial behavior and
action (Sawyer et al., 2002). The link between the pres-
ence of siblings and prosocial behavior is not always
consistent, and it has been argued that the quality of the
sibling relationship may be more predictive of childrens
positive behavior than the mere presence of siblings in
the home (Cutting & Dunn, 1999).
As suggested, the childs ordinal position in the sib-
ling dyad likely affects opportunities and expectations
for prosocial behavior. Older children are more likely to
enact prosocial behaviors directed toward younger sib-
lings and younger siblings accept reciprocal roles by dis-
playing high rates of compliance and modeling (Dunn &
Munn, 1986; Stoneman et al., 1986). Moreover, there is
evidence that older sisters are particularly likely to en-
gage in prosocial interactions with their siblings
(Sawyer et al., 2002; Stoneman et al., 1986; Whiting &
Whiting, 1975; cf. Brody, Stoneman, & MacKinnon,
1986). Due to gender roles, older girls may be expected
to help, comfort, and teach younger siblings. Tucker and
colleagues (Tucker, Updegraff, McHale, & Crouter,
1999) found that older siblings personal qualities and
sibling relationship experiences were related to the em-
pathy of younger sisters, but not younger brothers. By
early adulthood, people are less defensive about accept-
ing aid from a sister, particularly from an older sister,
than from a brother (especially a younger brother;
Searcy & Eisenberg, 1992).
Siblings prosocial behavior may be related in degree,
although the data are sparse and inconsistent. In a study
of Japanese children, siblings prosocial behaviors to-
ward one another were positively related (Kojima,
2000). In contrast, Dunn and Munn (1986) found little
correlation between older and younger siblings proso-
cial behavior (also see Bryant & Crockenberg, 1980), al-
though younger siblings cooperation and prosocial
behavior were positively related to older siblings giving
and cooperation 6 months later. Furthermore, in that
study, siblings who expressed negative affect in a high
percentage of their interactions were relatively unlikely
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 679
to behave prosocially with one another (cf. Stillwell &
Dunn, 1985, using a small sample).
Characteristics of siblings may affect the degree of
prosocial behavior between them. For example, sibling
relationships in families of children with autism were
characterized by less intimacy, prosocial behavior, and
nurturance than those that occur between typically de-
veloping siblings or a typical child and a sibling with
Down syndrome (Kaminsky & Dewey, 2001). Children
with autism rarely seek out others for comfort, affec-
tion, or help, decreasing the likelihood that siblings re-
spond in a helpful and affectionate way (Knott, Lewis,
& Williams, 1995). Thus, when one sibling has diffi-
culty initiating, maintaining, or promoting positive in-
teractions, prosocial and nurturing sibling interactions
are likely to be negatively affected.
Because sibling relationships are embedded in the
family, it is not surprising that mothers behaviors are
linked to prosocial behavior between siblings. When
mothers discussed their newborns feelings and needs
with an older sibling, the older child was more nurturant
toward the infant. Further, friendly interest in the infant
persisted and predicted prosocial behavior toward the
younger sibling 3 years later (Dunn & Kendrick, 1982).
Kojima (2000) found that Japanese mothers references
to the actions or emotional states of a sibling were posi-
tively correlated with the other childs prosocial inter-
actions with that sibling. In another study, nurturant
maternal responsiveness to young daughters needs was
positively related to younger siblings comforting and
sharing with their older sibling. In contrast, mothers
unavailability was associated with older daughters
prosocial behavior toward their younger sibling (Bryant
& Crockenberg, 1980). The latter finding is similar to
Brody et al.s (1986) finding that maternal valuing of a
separate life from children was associated with older
siblings helping and managing their younger sibling.
Perhaps older siblings, especially daughters, are ex-
pected to take a nurturant helping role when the mother
is unavailable relatively often.
Because sibling caregiving provides children with op-
portunities to learn about others perspectives and emo-
tions, children with sibling caregiving experience may
develop relatively mature perspective-taking skills and
therefore respond relatively appropriately and effec-
tively in caregiving situations (see section on perspec-
tive taking). Stewart and Marvin (1984) found a positive
relation between perspective taking and sibling caregiv-
ing; however, Howe and Ross (1990) did not find this re-
lation (although perspective taking was related to
friendly behavior between siblings). In addition, Garner,
Jones, and Palmer (1994) found that emotional role-tak-
ing skills, but not cognitive perspective taking, pre-
dicted sibling caregiving behavior. Perspective taking
about emotions may be a more relevant skill for sibling
caregiving than is cognitive perspective taking, al-
though the latter has been emphasized in most studies of
perspective taking and sibling interactions. A relation
between perspective taking and siblings prosocial be-
havior may be partly because high perspective-taking
siblings are especially likely to be asked by parents to
take care of younger siblings (Stewart & Marvin, 1984).
In summary, sibling interactions may be an important
context for learning caregiving behaviors (particularly
for older siblings) and the development of perspective
taking. However, little is known about the ways in which
the larger familial context moderates the development of
prosocial responding in the sibling relationship.
Peer Influences on Prosocial Development
Developmental theorists frequently have tied the acqui-
sition of morality to processes inherent in social interac-
tions with peers (Piaget, 1932/1965). These theorists
have argued that because peer interactions involve the
association with equals and, frequently, cooperation,
reciprocity, and mutuality, peer interaction may provide
an optimal atmosphere for the acquisition of concepts
and behaviors reflecting justice, kindness, and concern
for anothers welfare (Youniss, 1980). Consistent with
this view, Tesson, Lewko, and Bigelow (1987) found that
prosocial themes pertaining to issues such as reciproc-
ity, sincerity and trust, helping and solving problems,
and sensitivity to others feelings were prominent in 6-
to 13-year-old childrens reports of the social rules they
used in peer relationships. Additionally, having at least
one reciprocated friendship has been related to higher
levels of prosocial behavior (Wentzel, Barry, & Cald-
well, 2004).
Researchers also have found that the quality of chil-
drens prosocial behavior directed toward peers and
adults differs somewhat, particularly at younger ages.
When asked to give examples of kindness directed to-
ward peers, 6- to 14-year-olds tended to cite giving and
sharing, playing, physical assistance, understanding, and
teaching. In contrast, they cited primarily being good or
polite, doing chores, and obeying in regard to kindness
toward adults (Youniss, 1980). Further, preschoolers
provide more authority- and punishment-related reasons
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680 Prosocial Development
for complying with adults than peers requests, and
more other-oriented or relational (friendship, liking)
motives for complying with peers requests (Eisenberg,
Lundy, et al., 1985). With age, children appear to be
slightly more likely to define kindness toward adults in a
manner similar to peer-directed kindness; that is, as in-
volving acts demonstrating concern rather than compli-
ance (Youniss, 1980). Thus, peer interactions may
provide a context that is conducive to the development of
prosocial behavior motivated by other-oriented concerns
rather than compliance, particularly for prosocial ac-
tions directed toward individuals outside the family.
Other research also is consistent with the notion that
peer interactions are important for the development of
empathy, sympathy, and an other-orientation. According
to maternal reports, infants and toddlers cry more in re-
sponse to cries of peers than of adults (Zahn-Waxler,
Iannotti, & Chapman, 1982). Children observed adults
cry relatively infrequently, and when they did, they gen-
erally did not cry. When children cried in response to
adults distress, it usually was in reaction to angry inter-
actions such as fights between parents. Moreover, proso-
cial behavior (when it occurred) was enacted more often
in response to a childs than to an adults distress.
Peers also may affect prosocial development because
of their roles as models. Adolescents who volunteer are
relatively likely to have friends who feel it is important
to engage in activities such as sports, clubs, or school
events (Huebner & Mancini, 2003), to do well in school,
and to be involved in community and volunteer work
(Zaff et al., 2003). In contrast, adolescents are relatively
unlikely to report the intention to volunteer if they be-
long to a crowd that places a high value on having fun
(Youniss, Mclellan, & Mazer, 2001; also see Pugh &
Hart, 1999). Although such data are only correlational
and do not demonstrate causality, prosocial peer models
sometimes have been found to be effective in eliciting
prosocial behavior in the laboratory (e.g., Owens & As-
cione, 1991). Familiarity and liking of peer models may
be important factors in influencing childrens prosocial
behavior: Peers may have greater identification with fel-
low peers and may experience more freedom to try out
new behaviors with peers than they do with adults. How-
ever, findings in this regard are sparse and are not read-
ily interpretable (see Owens & Ascione, 1991). In one
study, children with a history of receiving social rein-
forcement from peers were more likely to model the do-
nating behavior of a peer from whom they had received
frequent rewards than the behavior of a nonrewarding
peer. In contrast, children with a history of infrequent
peer reinforcement imitated the prosocial behavior of a
nonrewarding rather than a rewarding peer (Hartup &
Coates, 1967). Thus, characteristics of the child and the
peer model influence whether children imitate peers
prosocial actions.
Peers sometimes respond in a reinforcing manner to
peers prosocial actions (Eisenberg, Cameron, Tryon, &
Dodez, 1981), and such reinforcement may affect chil-
drens prosocial behavior. Eisenberg et al. (1981) found
that preschool girls ( but not boys) who engaged in rela-
tively high levels of spontaneous prosocial behavior
were those who received marginally more positive rein-
forcement for their prosocial actions from peers. How-
ever, preschoolers (especially boys) who were high in
compliant (requested) prosocial actions received low
levels of positive reinforcement for their compliant
prosocial actions. Sociable children were particularly
likely to receive positive peer reactions when they en-
acted compliant prosocial actions, and children who re-
sponded positively to other childrens spontaneous
prosocial behaviors were likely to receive positive peer
reactions for their own spontaneous and compliant
prosocial behavior. Thus, children who were more socia-
ble and positive may have elicited the most peer rein-
forcement when they engaged in prosocial behavior. A
cyclical process may occur in which socially competent
children elicit more positive peer reactions for prosocial
behavior, which in turn increases their prosocial behav-
ior (with the reverse process occurring for children low
in social skills).
Related to this cyclical process, Fabes, Martin, and
Hanish (2002) analyzed the degree to which low- and
high-prosocial children (i.e., those at least 1 standard
deviation below or above the mean in teacher-reported
prosociality) interacted with each other. Rarely were
low and high prosocial children observed interacting
with each other (about 5% of the time). Fabes et al. re-
ferred to this as a type of prosocial segregation. Of
importance, the more exposure that preschool children
had to prosocial peers at the beginning of the school
year, the greater the degree of positive peer interactions
later in the school year. In a longitudinal extension of
these analyses, Fabes, Moss, Reesing, Martin, and Han-
ish (2005) found that exposure to prosocial peers was re-
lated to heightened prosocial behavior 1 year later. In
addition, Wentzel et al. (2004) found that students with
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Socialization Within and Outside the Family 681
initially low levels of prosocial behavior relative to those
of their friends improved when exposed to their more
prosocial peers, and students with initially higher levels
of prosocial behavior decrease their levels of prosocial
behavior when exposed to their less prosocial peers.
Such findings demonstrate the potential potency of
peers as influences on subsequent likelihood of proso-
cial and positive behavior and development.
Peer interactions seem to provide unique opportuni-
ties for prosocial behavior, and peer responses in such
contexts may influence the type and degree of potential
prosocial responses. The role of peer interaction in older
childrens and adolescents prosocial behavior has sel-
dom been examined and little is known about the degree
to which the effects of peers are moderated by other
variables (e.g., the nature of interactions with other so-
cializers and characteristics of the child, the peer group,
or the context) or the exact processes that underlie such
School Programs
Children likely receive considerable moral education and
training in school, but little is known about the effects of
school experiences on childrens prosocial behavior.
One avenue for examining the potential impact of the
school context on childrens prosocial behavior is to as-
sess the natural occurrence of prosocial behavior in the
classroom. Hertz-Lazarowitz (1983; Hertz-Lazarowitz,
Fuchs, Sharabany, & Eisenberg, 1989) found that natu-
rally occurring prosocial behaviors in school classrooms
(Grades 1 to 12) were relatively rare (only 1.5% to 6.5%
of total behaviors). Similarly, researchers usually have
noted low frequencies of prosocial behavior in preschool
classes, although estimates vary considerably with the
operationalization of prosocial behavior (e.g., Caplan &
Hay, 1989; Denham & Burger, 1991; Eisenberg et al.,
1981; Fabes et al., 2002; Strayer, Wareing, & Rushton,
1979). Further, in studies of preschoolers, teachers
rarely reinforced (Eisenberg et al., 1981) or encouraged
(Caplan & Hay, 1989) childrens prosocial behavior.
Findings such as these suggest that the typical class-
room environment may not be conducive to eliciting fre-
quent prosocial interactions among children. Salient and
unambiguous expectations regarding prosocial behavior
may be necessary to elicit more spontaneous prosocial
actions in the classroom. Moreover, structuring classes
to provide children with opportunities to help others
may promote prosocial behavior. Bizman, Yinon,
Mivtzari, and Shavit (1978) found that Israeli kinder-
gartners enrolled in classes that contained younger peers
were more altruistic than those enrolled in classes that
were homogeneous in age. Further, elementary school
Israeli students in active classrooms in which coopera-
tion and individualized learning were emphasized
helped peers more than students in traditional class-
rooms (Hertz-Lazarowitz et al., 1989).
Some investigators have tried to assess the effects of
preschool and day care on childrens prosocial develop-
ment by comparing children who attend preschool with
those who do not (e.g., are reared at home). Clarke-
Stewart (1981) suggested that attendance at group day
care has a temporarily accelerating effect on social de-
velopment and found that prosocial behavior was higher
for children with nonparental care. However, evidence in
support of this contention is equivocal. Schenk and
Grusec (1987) found that home-care children were more
likely than day-care children to behave prosocially in
situations involving an adult stranger, whereas the two
groups were similar on helping unknown children. Other
researchers have produced results indicating that out-of-
home care per se does not have any reliable or consistent
effects on childrens emerging prosocial development
(Austin et al., 1991).
Although differences between home versus group
care children may be limited, quality of the caregiving
situation likely moderates the degree and type of influ-
ence preschools have on childrens prosocial behavior
and attitudes (Love et al., 2003). Quality of the day care
or preschool environment has been associated with chil-
drens self-regulation (Howes & Olenick, 1986), empa-
thy and social competence (Vandell, Henderson, &
Wilson, 1988), considerateness (Phillips, McCartney, &
Scarr, 1987), and positive peer-related behaviors (in-
cluding prosocial behaviors; Broberg, Hwang, Lamb, &
Ketterlinus, 1989). Moreover, warm, supportive interac-
tions with teachers have been associated with preschool
childrens modeling of teachers prosocial actions
(Yarrow et al., 1973), sympathetic-prosocial reactions to
distress (Kienbaum, Volland, & Ulich, 2001), and posi-
tive interactions among students in the elementary
school classroom (Serow & Solomon, 1979). In addition,
Howes, Matheson, and Hamilton (1994) found that chil-
dren classified as securely attached to their current and
first preschool teachers were rated as more considerate
and empathic with unfamiliar peers than were children
classified as having an insecure relationship (especially
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682 Prosocial Development
ambivalent) with their teachers. Contemporaneous
teacher-child relationships better differentiated peer-re-
lated outcomes for children than did contemporaneous
maternal attachment relations or day-care history. Thus,
degree and type of influence exerted by school experi-
ences, as well as durability of effects on prosocial re-
sponding, probably varies as a function of quality of care
received and the childs relationship with the teacher (as
well as quality of care received from parents at home).
Based on the previously described literature concern-
ing the socialization of prosocial attitudes and behavior,
some investigators have attempted to design school-
based programs aimed at fostering prosocial respond-
ing. Solomon and colleagues (Solomon, Battistich,
Watson, Schaps, & Lewis, 2000; Solomon, Watson,
Delucchi, Schaps, & Battistich, 1988) developed a pro-
gram (The Child Development Project, henceforth re-
ferred to as the CDP) in which teachers were trained to
maintain positive personal relationships with their stu-
dents by using a child-centered approach to classroom
management that emphasized inductive discipline and
student participation in rule-setting. Other aspects of
the program were designed to promote social under-
standing, highlight prosocial values, and provide helping
activities; however, these program components were
viewed as playing a more limited, supportive role in the
program (Battistich, Watson, Solomon, Schaps, &
Solomon, 1991).
Across 5 consecutive years of implementation
( kindergarten through fourth grade), students in the
program classrooms, compared with control classes,
generally scored higher on ratings of prosocial behavior.
These patterns held when both teachers general compe-
tence and students participation in cooperative activi-
ties were controlled, suggesting that program effects on
childrens prosocial behavior were not due simply to dif-
ferences in teacher-initiated cooperative interactions or
to more efficiently organized and managed classrooms
(Solomon et al., 1988).
Children enrolled in the program ( but not children in
the control group) evidenced the highest ratings for
prosocial behavior and harmony in kindergarten. Thus,
it appears that the impact of this program was greatest
when first introduced. The degree to which program ef-
fects generalized beyond the immediate classroom envi-
ronment was unclear (Battistich et al., 1991). However,
the teachers in the program had only 1 year of experi-
ence in implementing the program and the effects may
have been more sustained given additional time for
teachers to develop their techniques and fully integrate
the program into the ongoing routine of the classroom.
In another longitudinal test of the effects of the CDP,
the program was used with a cohort of students who
began in kindergarten and continued through eighth
grade (Solomon, Battistich, & Watson, 1993). Of partic-
ular interest, measures of prosocial reasoning and con-
flict resolution were obtained each year. Comparison
students reasoned higher than CDP children at kinder-
garten, but CDP students reasoned at higher levels from
first grade on, although the within-year difference was
significant only in second grade. In general, CDP stu-
dents also evidenced higher conflict resolution scores
than comparison students (indicating consideration of
others needs and a reliance on compromise and shar-
ing). Program effects appeared to be greater when com-
bined across years (effects were not consistently
significant within years). However, the CDP initially
was implemented in schools with mostly advantaged
Caucasian children. More recently, the CDP was imple-
mented in six school districts over a 3-year period, with
two additional schools in each district serving as com-
parison groups (Battistich, Schaps, Watson, Solomon, &
Lewis, 2000; Solomon et al., 2000). For those schools
that made significant progress in implementing the pro-
gram, students showed positive gains in personal, so-
cial, and ethical values, attitudes, and motives, and a
reduction of substance abuse and other problem behav-
iors (also see Battistich, Solomon, Kim, Watson, &
Schaps, 1995).
Other school-based programs have been designed to
promote empathy. Although some seem to have been
minimally effective (e.g., Kalliopuska & Tiitinen,
1991), Feshbach and Feshbach (1982) found that empa-
thy training significantly increased incidents of proso-
cial behavior in schoolchildren. Moreover, the use of
cooperative educational techniques in classroom activi-
ties has been found to promote acceptance of others
(Johnson & Johnson, 1975), as well as cooperation and
prosocial behavior (Hertz-Lazarowitz & Sharan, 1983;
Hertz-Lazarowitz, Sharan, & Steinberg, 1980).
Some researchers have developed school-based pro-
grams that include a formal curriculum component. As-
cione (1992) studied the effects of a humane education
program when used with first, second, fourth, and fifth
graders for nearly 40 hours over the school year. There
was relatively little evidence of an immediate effect for
younger children, although there was an effect on hu-
mane attitudes a year later (Ascione & Weber, 1993).
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Cognitive and Sociocognitive Correlates of Prosocial Development 683
Humane attitudes were enhanced for the fourth graders
in the immediate posttest and for fourth and fifth
graders a year later. Human-directed empathy increased
for fourth and fifth graders on both the initial and 1-
year posttests.
In summary, although prosocial behavior often may
not be directly promoted in the classroom, quality early
schooling and supportive relationships between chil-
dren and their teachers have been associated with the
development of prosocial tendencies. Moreover, school-
based programs designed to enhance prosocial values,
behaviors, and attitudes in children can be effective in
fostering childrens prosocial attitudes and behaviors.
However, most programs have involved relatively weak
and short interventions that may not be adequate for
some groups of children. Variation in instruction
among teachers within a treatment group often is prob-
lematic, as is the application of these programs to large
and diverse samples. These issues are critical if one
hopes to argue that such programs are cost-effective
and impactful, especially in contexts where resources
and time are limited.
Numerous theorists have hypothesized that cognitive
and sociocognitive skills, particularly perspective tak-
ing and moral reasoning, foster prosocial responding
(Batson, 1991; Eisenberg, 1986; Hoffman, 1982). More-
over, although not discussed, it is likely that certain
types of prosocial experiences provide experiences that
enhance childrens sociocognitive skills (see Eisenberg,
1986, for a review of childrens understanding of, and
attributions about, their own and others kindness).
Intelligence, Cognitive Capacities, and
Academic Achievement
Because cognitive abilities may underlie the ability to
discern others needs or distress as well as the capacity
to devise ways to respond to others needs, it would be
logical to expect a modest relation between measures of
intelligence and prosocial responding, particularly
prosocial behavior involving sophisticated cognitive
skills. Some investigators have obtained modest to mod-
erate positive correlations between measures of intelli-
gence (e.g., IQ, vocabulary or reading skills, language
development, developmental level) and self-reported
(Carlo, Hausmann, Christiansen, & Randall, 2003; Cas-
sidy, Werner, Rourke, Lubernis, & Balaraman, 2003;
Hart et al., 1998; Ma & Leung, 1991; also see Goodman,
1994) or other measures of prosocial behavior (Krebs &
Sturrup, 1982; Slaughter, Dennis, & Pritchard, 2002;
van der Mark et al., 2002; Zahn-Waxler et al., 1982; also
see Lourenco, 1993, Zaff et al., 2003). Grade point aver-
age also has been linked to prosocial goals and behavior
(Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli, Bandura, & Zim-
bardo, 2000; Huebner & Mancini, 2003; Johnson et al.,
1998; Uggen & Janikula, 1999; Wentzel, 2003; Zeldin &
Topitzes, 2002; also see Lichter et al., 2002), as have
teachers ratings of school performance combined with
grades (e.g., Welsh, Parke, Widaman, & ONeil, 2001).
In addition, there is some support for a positive relation
between scores on achievement tests and childrens em-
pathy (Feshbach, 1978) or sympathy (Wise & Cramer,
1988), and between academic self-efficacy and proso-
cial behavior (Bandura et al., 2001, 2003). Not surpris-
ingly, given the array of measures used, some
researchers have found no significant relations between
tests of intelligence (or scholastic ability) and childrens
prosocial behavior (e.g., Jennings, Fitch, & Suwalsky,
1987; Turner & Harris, 1984) or have obtained mixed or
inconsistent relations with prosocial behavior (e.g.,
Strayer & Roberts, 1989) or sympathy (Wise & Cramer,
1988). Intelligence and academic skills likely are asso-
ciated with certain types of prosocial responding or
prosocial behavior in some contexts.
Perspective Taking and Understanding of Emotion
As noted, it is commonly assumed that perspective-tak-
ing skills increase the likelihood of individuals identify-
ing, understanding, and sympathizing with others
distress or need (e.g., Batson et al., 2003; Eisenberg,
Shea, et al., 1991; Feshbach, 1978; Hoffman, 1982).
Hoffman (1982) proposed that improvement in young
childrens perspective taking is critical to childrens
abilities to differentiate between their own and others
distress and to accurately understand others emotional
reactions. These skills are believed to foster empathy
and sympathy and, consequently, more and higher qual-
ity prosocial behavior.
Information about others internal states can be ob-
tained by imagining oneself in anothers position or
through processes such as accessing stored knowledge,
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684 Prosocial Development
mental associations, and social scripts or deduction
(Karniol, 1995). Children also may have theories
about others internal states that they use to infer how
others feel (see Eisenberg, Murphy, & Shepard, 1997).
For convenience, and because it generally is difficult to
identify the processes underlying performance on per-
spective-taking tasks, the term perspective taking is
used to refer to the ability to engage in any of these
processes when they result in knowledge about others
internal states.
Researchers have found an association between per-
spective taking ( broadly defined, and including an un-
derstanding of theory of mind) and prosocial behavior
(including comforting skills) or empathy/sympathy, al-
though findings sometimes have been obtained for only
some of the examined associations (e.g., Bengtsson,
2003; Bengtsson & Johnson, 1992; Bosacki, 2003; Carlo
et al., 2003; Cassidy et al., 2003; Charbonneau & Nicol,
2002; Denham et al., 1994; Denham, Blair, et al., 2003;
Denham & Couchoud, 1991; Dekovic & Gerris, 1994;;
Eisenberg, Carlo, et al., 1995; Eisenberg, Zhou, &
Koller, 2001; Estrada, 1995; Garner & Estep, 2001;
Garner, Jones, & Miner, 1994; Ginsburg et al., 2003;
Kumru & Edwards, 2003; Litvack-Miller, McDougall,
& Romney, 1997; Roberts & Strayer, 1996; Slaugher
et al., 2002; Strayer & Roberts, 2004b; also see Eisen-
berg & Fabes, 1998; Matsuba & Walker, 2005). Al-
though no such association has been found in a minority
of studies (e.g., Astington & Jenkins, 1995; Hughes,
White, Sharpen, & Dunn, 2000; Lalonde & Chandler,
1995; Peterson, 1983; Zahn-Waxler et al., 1982), to our
knowledge, perspective taking seldom has been signifi-
cantly negatively related to childrens prosocial behav-
ior (e.g., Barrett & Yarrow, 1977; Lemare & Krebs,
1983 for low assertive boys only). Moreover, the match
between childrens facial reactions and reported reac-
tions to empathy-inducing stimuli ( believed to reflect
emotional insight) has been positively related to their
empathy (Roberts & Strayer, 1996), whereas young ado-
lescents self-understanding has been associated with
high levels of prosocial behavior (Bosacki, 2003).
Positive findings were obtained in many studies al-
though most researchers used single measures of per-
spective-taking abilities or prosocial behavior rather
than more reliable indexes created by aggregation across
measures. The association does not seem to be due
merely to increases in both perspective taking and
prosocial behavior with age; often the age range of the
study participants was narrow or findings were main-
tained when age was controlled (e.g., Garner, Jones, &
Palmer, 1994; see Underwood & Moore, 1982). As
might be expected, the relation seems to be stronger
when there is a match between the type of perspective-
taking skills assessed and the type or level of under-
standing likely to promote prosocial behavior in the
given context (Carlo, Knight, Eisenberg, & Rotenberg,
1991). In some circumstances, perspective-taking skills
may be unimportant because prosocial actions are en-
acted in a relatively automatic fashion due to either their
low cost or the compelling, crisis-like nature of the situ-
ation. In other contexts, prosocial behavior likely is mo-
tivated by any number of factors other than knowledge
of anothers internal states.
Some people may take others perspectives but lack
the motivation, skills, or social assertiveness required to
take action. Thus, the relations of measures of perspec-
tive taking or emotion understanding with prosocial re-
sponding are likely moderated by other variables.
Perspective taking has been linked to prosocial behavior
for children who are socially assertive (Barrett &
Yarrow, 1977; Denham & Couchoud, 1991), but not for
children who are less assertive. Similarly, the relation of
perspective taking to prosocial behavior sometimes has
been mediated or moderated by childrens empathic/
sympathetic responding (Barnett & Thompson, 1985;
Roberts & Strayer, 1996). In one study, children who
donated money to help a child who had been burned
were those who not only evidenced relatively sophisti-
cated perspective-taking skills, but also were sympa-
thetic and understood units and value of money (Knight,
Johnson, Carlo, & Eisenberg, 1994). In another, per-
spective taking was not directly related to reported
prosocial behavior; it was indirectly related through its
prediction of both sympathy and moral reasoning
(Eisenberg, Zhou, & Koller, 2001).
In summary, children with higher perspective-taking
skills generally are somewhat more prosocial, particu-
larly if their perspective-taking abilities are relevant to
the prosocial task and if they have the social skills (e.g.,
assertiveness) and emotional motivation (e.g., sympa-
thy) to act on the knowledge obtained by perspective
taking. Perspective-taking skills may be involved in dis-
cerning others needs, providing sensitive help, and
evoking the affective motivation for prosocial action
(i.e., sympathy, empathy, or guilt). Moreover, it is likely
that children with well-developed perspective-taking
abilities have more opportunities to be prosocial; for ex-
ample, older siblings with better perspective-taking
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Cognitive and Sociocognitive Correlates of Prosocial Development 685
skills are more frequently asked by their mothers to
provide caregiving to younger siblings (Stewart & Mar-
vin, 1984).
Person Attributions and Expressed Motives
Although children sometimes may report socially desir-
able motives or may have little access to their motives
(see Eisenberg, 1986, for a discussion of these issues),
there appears to be some relation between childrens ex-
pressed motives and the quantity (e.g., Bar-Tal, Raviv,
et al., 1980) or quality (i.e., maturity; see Bar-Tal,
1982) of their prosocial behavior (see Eisenberg, 1986,
for a review). As discussed by Eisenberg (1986), it is un-
clear whether childrens motives influence their proso-
cial responding or if children formulate motives post
hoc to the execution of behavior based on self-
observation. In support of the former explanation, Smith
et al. (1979) found that individual differences in ex-
pressed internality of motives were associated with do-
nating, whereas environmental contingencies (e.g.,
rewards and punishments) that might influence post hoc
evaluations were not. In any case, it is likely that people
have greater access to their cognitive processes (includ-
ing motives) when a task is not so overlearned that it can
be performed in a mindless manner. Therefore, it is
probable that expressed motives are more accurate for
prosocial acts that are not performed automatically; that
is, when the potential benefactor must consider whether
to assist. At this time, data to test this idea are not avail-
able (see, however, Eisenberg & Shell, 1986).
Moral Reasoning
In general, investigators have hypothesized that there
should be some link between childrens moral reasoning
and their behavior. Krebs and Van Hesteren (1994) as-
serted: [A]dvanced stages give rise to higher quantities
of altruism than less advanced stages because they give
rise to greater social sensitivity, stronger feelings of re-
sponsibility, and so on. . . . We propose that advanced
stage-structures give rise for forms of altruism that are
(1) purer (i.e., more exclusively devoted to enhancing the
welfare of others, as opposed to the self ) and (2) deeper
(i.e., that benefit others in less superficial and less tran-
sient ways) than less advanced structures (p. 136).
Prosocial actions can be motivated by a range of con-
siderations, including altruistic, pragmatic, and even
self-oriented concerns; this attenuates the degree to
which one might expect associations between general
level of moral reasoning and observed prosocial actions.
However, prosocial behavior motivated by a particular
type of factor (e.g., sympathy) is likely to be correlated
with the types or levels of reasoning reflecting that fac-
tor, although not necessarily with an individuals overall
level of reasoning.
In published studies involving child participants,
prosocial behavior has been inconsistently related to as-
pects of Piagets scheme of moral judgment (e.g., inten-
tionality, distributive justice), but generally (albeit not
consistently) positively related to Kohlbergian prohibi-
tion- and justice-oriented moral reasoning (or modified
versions thereof; see Eisenberg, 1986; Eisenberg &
Fabes, 1998; Underwood & Moore, 1982). However,
there appears to be a stronger correspondence between
moral reasoning and prosocial behavior if the moral rea-
soning dilemma concerns reasoning about prosocial be-
havior rather than another type of behavior. Levin and
Bekerman-Greenberg (1980) found that the strength of
the positive relation between reasoning about sharing
and actual prosocial behavior was somewhat greater if
the dilemma and sharing task were similar in content.
Moreover, when researchers have assessed childrens
moral reasoning about dilemmas involving helping or
sharing behavior, generally moral reasoning has been as-
sociated in the predicted manner with at least some mea-
sures of prosocial behavior (e.g., Carlo & Randall, 2002;
Eisenberg, Carlo, et al., 1995; Eisenberg, Miller, et al.,
1991; Eisenberg, Zhou, & Koller, 2001; Janssens &
Dekovic, 1997; Kumru et al., 2003; Larrieu & Mussen,
1986; Stewart & McBride-Chang, 2000; also see Eisen-
berg, 1986, and Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998, for reviews).
In addition, children who reason at developmentally ma-
ture levels are less likely than children who reason at
lower levels to say they would discriminate between
people close to them and others when deciding whether
to help (Eisenberg, 1983; also see Ma, 1992).
Types of reasoning that reflect an other- versus self-
orientation or are developmentally mature for the age
group are most likely to predict prosocial responding.
Hedonistic reasoning and needs-oriented reasoning (i.e.,
rudimentary other-oriented reasoning) tend to be nega-
tively and positively related, respectively, to prosocial
behavior (e.g., Carlo et al., 1996; Carlo et al., 2003;
Eisenberg, Boehnke, et al., 1985; Eisenberg, Carlo,
et al., 1995; Eisenberg, Miller, et al., 1991; Eisenberg &
Shell, 1986). In addition, sometimes a mode of reason-
ing that is relatively sophisticated for the age group
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686 Prosocial Development
(Carlo & Randall, 2002; Miller, Eisenberg, Fabes, &
Shell, 1996; Schenk & Grusec, 1987) has been signifi-
cantly associated with prosocial behavior. It is possible
that the relation of moral reasoning and prosocial behav-
ior increases with age across adolescence (Pratt et al.,
2004) because moral reasoning becomes more mature
and internalized with age (Eisenberg, 1986).
The nature of the enacted prosocial behavior also
seems to be a critical variable. Higher level self-
reported internalized prosocial moral reasoning tends to
be positively correlated with adolescents reports of al-
truistic prosocial actions and helping in emotional and
anonymous situations, whereas lower level reasoning
(i.e., approval-oriented or hedonistic) tends to be related
positively to reported public helping and negatively to
altruism or helping in emotional or dire circumstances
(Carlo, Hausmann, et al., 2003). In observational stud-
ies, prosocial moral reasoning most often has been sig-
nificantly positively related to preschoolers
spontaneous sharing behaviors rather than helping be-
haviors (which, in these studies, generally entailed little
cost) or prosocial behaviors performed in compliance
with a peers request (Eisenberg et al., 1984; Eisenberg-
Berg & Hand, 1979). In fact, preschoolers spontaneous
prosocial behaviors predict a prosocial, sympathetic ori-
entation across childhood and into early adulthood
(Eisenberg, Guthrie, et al., 1999, 2002).
In laboratory studies involving elementary or high
school students, prosocial moral reasoning more fre-
quently has been associated with prosocial actions that
incur a cost (e.g., donating or volunteering time after
school) than with those low in cost (e.g., helping pick up
dropped paper clips; Eisenberg, Boehnke, et al., 1985;
Eisenberg, Shell, et al., 1987; Eisenberg & Shell, 1986;
also see Miller et al., 1996). Eisenberg and Shell (1986)
hypothesized that low-cost behaviors are performed
rather automatically, without much cognitive reflection,
moral or otherwise. In contrast, moral reasoning is
likely to be associated with childrens prosocial behav-
ior in situations involving a cost because consideration
of the cost may evoke cognitive conflict and morally rel-
evant decision making.
It also is likely that other variables moderate the re-
lation between moral judgment and prosocial behavior,
particularly for lower level modes of reasoning (at
higher levels, moral principles may be sufficient moti-
vation to help). Sympathetic responding is a likely mod-
erator. Consistent with this view, Miller et al. (1996)
found that preschoolers who reported sympathy for hos-
pitalized children and who were relatively high in use
of needs-oriented reasoning were especially likely to
help hospitalized children at a cost to themselves. Af-
fective motivation such as sympathy (and perhaps guilt)
often may be necessary to spur the individual to action.
Thus, it is important to identify moderators and media-
tors of the relation between moral reasoning and proso-
cial responding.
As noted, psychologists (e.g., Eisenberg, 1986; Fesh-
bach, 1978; Hoffman, 1982; Staub, 1979) and philoso-
phers (Blum, 1980; Hume, 1748/1975; Slote, 2004) have
proposed that prosocial behavior, particularly altruism,
often is motivated by empathy or sympathy. Links be-
tween empathy or sympathy and prosocial behavior have
been presumed to exist both within specific contexts
(e.g., Batson, 1991; Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990) and at the
dispositional level (i.e., people with a dispositional ten-
dency toward empathy/sympathy are expected to be al-
truistic in general; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987).
Although many psychologists have assumed that em-
pathy plays a role in prosocial behavior, in a meta-ana-
lytic review, Underwood and Moore (1982) found that
empathy was not significantly related to prosocial be-
havior. Many of the studies they reviewed were con-
ducted with children, and most involved a particular
type of measurethe picture/story measure of empathy.
With this type of measure, children are presented with a
series of short vignettes, usually illustrated (rather than
videotaped), about children in emotionally evocative
contexts (e.g., when a child loses his or her dog). After
each vignette, the child is asked, How do you feel? or
a similar question. If children say they felt an emotion
similar to that which the story protagonist would be ex-
pected to feel, they typically are viewed as empathizing.
The validity of this sort of measure has been ques-
tioned, in part because these measures were not very
evocative (see Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983; Lennon,
Eisenberg, & Carroll, 1983). In fact, the degree of asso-
ciation between measures of empathy-related respond-
ing and prosocial behavior appears to vary as a function
of the measure of empathy. In a meta-analytic review of
the literature, Eisenberg and Miller (1987) found no sig-
nificant relation between prosocial behavior and pic-
ture/story measures (or childrens self-reported
reactions to enactments or videotapes of others in dis-
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Empathy-Related Emotional Responding 687
tress or need). In contrast, there were significant posi-
tive associations with prosocial behavior for some non-
self-report measures of empathy-related responding and
self-report measures for older adolescents and adults. At
the time of the Eisenberg and Miller review, there were
few published studies including facial or physiological
measures or the use of questionnaires with children in
preschool or early elementary school.
In recent years, it has become clear that it is essential
to differentiate among empathy-related emotional reac-
tions. Batson (1991) hypothesized that sympathy (as de-
fined at the beginning of this chapter, although labeled
empathy by Batson) is intimately linked with other-
oriented motivation and, consequently, with other-ori-
ented, altruistic helping behavior. In contrast, personal
distress is viewed as involving the egoistic motivation of
alleviating ones own distress; therefore, it is expected
to motivate prosocial behavior only when the easiest
way to reduce ones own distress is to reduce the others
distress (e.g., when one cannot easily escape contact
with the empathy-inducing person).
Consistent with his theorizing, Batson and his col-
leagues, in laboratory studies with adults, have found
that sympathy is more likely to be positively associated
with helping than is personal distress when it is easy for
people to escape contact with the person needing assis-
tance (see Batson, 1991). In a series of studies, Eisen-
berg, Fabes, and their colleagues obtained similar
findings with children. In their studies, childrens
prosocial behavior was as anonymous as possible and
children did not have to interact in any way with the
needy other(s) if they did not want to do so. Eisenberg
et al. (1994) have argued that people tend to experience
personal distress when they are physiologically over-
aroused, whereas they experience sympathy when they
experience moderate vicarious arousal. Thus, the re-
searchers hypothesized that high levels of autonomic
arousal would be associated with personal distress,
whereas the reverse would be true for sympathy (except
when low arousal is likely an index of no empathy-re-
lated responding, especially to a mild stimulus). In addi-
tion, heart rate deceleration tends to occur when
individuals are oriented to information in the environ-
ment outside the self; this is another reason one might
expect an association between experiencing sympathy
and heart rate deceleration. Across studies in which
children were shown empathy-inducing videotapes, chil-
dren who exhibited facial or physiological (i.e., heart
rate deceleration or lower skin conductance) markers of
sympathy tended to be relatively prosocial when given
an opportunity to assist someone in the film or people
similar to those in the film (e.g., hospitalized children).
In contrast, children who exhibited evidence of personal
distress ( higher heart rate or skin conductance) tended
to be less prosocial (Eisenberg, Fabes, et al., 1993;
Eisenberg, Fabes, et al., 1990; Eisenberg, Fabes, Kar-
bon, Murphy, Carlo, et al., 1996; Eisenberg, Fabes,
Miller, et al., 1989; Fabes, Eisenberg, Karbon,
Bernzweig, et al., 1994; Fabes, Eisenberg, Karbon,
Troyer, & Switzer, 1994; Miller et al., 1996). Self-
report measures in these studies tended to be less con-
sistently related to childrens prosocial behaviors (see
Eisenberg & Fabes, 1990). Fabes, Eisenberg, and Eisen-
bud (1993) also found that skin conductance (a marker
of personal distress) predicted girls ( but not boys) low
dispositional (rather than situational) helpfulness (i.e.,
parental ratings of helpfulness rather than prosocial be-
havior in the same context). Moreover, facial reactions
of sympathy have been linked to prosocial behavior in
another context (Eisenberg, Fabes, et al., 1990; Eisen-
berg, McCreath, & Ahn, 1988).
As one would expect, not all markers of sympathy or
personal distress in Eisenberg, Fabes, and their col-
leagues research predicted prosocial behavior in all
studies (or sometimes for both sexes; e.g., Eisenberg,
Fabes, Karbon, Murphy, Carlo, & Wosinski, 1996;
Miller, Eisenberg, et al., 1996). In addition, heart rate
markers of reactions to empathy-inducing films pre-
dicted prosocial behavior within, but not across, con-
texts (e.g., Eisenberg, Fabes, et al., 1990). Nonetheless,
the overall pattern of findings is consistent. Further,
other investigators have obtained similar findings.
Zahn-Waxler and her colleagues found that sympathetic
concern and prosocial actions seemed to co-occur in the
behavior of children aged 14 and 26 months (Zahn-
Waxler, Robinson, & Emde, 1992; Zahn-Waxler et al.,
2001) and 4 to 5 years (Zahn-Waxler et al., 1995), al-
though self-distress in reaction to anothers emotion
(Zahn-Waxler, Robinson, & Emde, 1992) and arousal
(Zahn-Waxler et al., 1995) were unrelated to prosocial
behavior in toddlers (also see Trommsdorff, 1995).
Zahn-Waxler et al. (1995) also found (a) childrens heart
rate deceleration during exposure to sadness (at the
peak interval) was associated with 3 of 4 measures of
prosocial responding, and ( b) behavioral /facial mea-
sures of concerned attention were positively related to
prosocial behavior directed toward the target of concern.
Similarly, Volling (2001) found that preschoolers who
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688 Prosocial Development
turned their backs or moved away from a distressed
younger sibling were also more likely to display personal
distress reactions. Trommsdorff and Friedlmeier (1999)
reported that German childrens facial sympathy was
positively correlated with intensity of observed helping,
unless they were distracted by another task.
Preschoolers personal distress reactions also have
been positively related to the childrens tendency to en-
gage in compliant, requested prosocial behaviors in
other contexts (Eisenberg et al., 1988; Eisenberg, Fabes,
et al., 1990). Compliant prosocial behavior, in contrast
to spontaneously emitted prosocial behavior, has been
correlated with low assertiveness, low levels of positive
peer reinforcement, low levels of positive response to
peers prosocial actions, and low levels of social inter-
action. Children high in compliant prosocial responding,
especially boys, seem to be nonassertive and perhaps
are viewed as easy targets by their peers (Eisenberg
et al., 1981; Eisenberg et al., 1988; Larrieu, 1984). Un-
like frequency of spontaneous sharing, young childrens
compliant prosocial behaviors generally do not predict
their sympathy at older ages, although there are a few
correlations of compliant sharing with self-reported
measures evident in adolescence and early adulthood
(Eisenberg, Guthrie, et al., 1999, 2002). It is likely that
young children who exhibit high levels of compliant be-
havior with peers are relatively low in social compe-
tence and emotion regulation, and engage in requested
prosocial behaviors as a means of curtailing unpleasant
social interactions.
Studies since Eisenberg and Millers (1987) review
support the view that questionnaire measures tapping
empathy (Albiero & Lo Coco, 2001; Eisenberg, Miller,
et al., 1991; Eisenberg, Shell, et al., 1987; Hoffner &
Haefner, 1997; cf. Stewart & McBride-Chang, 2000),
sympathy (Eisenberg, Carlo, et al., 1995; Eisenberg,
Miller, et al., 1991; Estrada, 1995; Knight et al., 1994;
Litvack-Miller et al., 1997), sympathy and empathy
combined (e.g., Krevans & Gibbs, 1996), or empathic
self-efficacy (i.e., perceived ability to experience empa-
thy/sympathy; Bandura et al., 2003) are positively re-
lated to some measures of childrens prosocial behavior
in Asian (e.g., in Japan; Asakawa, Iwawaki, Mondori, &
Minami, 1987), mid-Eastern (Kumru & Edwards,
2003), or European samples (Bandura et al., 2003), as
well as in North American samples. Relations between
dispositional empathy or sympathy and prosocial behav-
ior seem to be most consistent for self-reported or rela-
tively costly prosocial behavior (Eisenberg, Miller,
et al., 1991; Eisenberg, Shell, et al., 1987). Findings for
self-reported empathy are not highly consistent (e.g.,
Larrieu & Mussen, 1986; Strayer & Roberts, 1989; also
see Roberts & Strayer, 1996). However, empathy ques-
tionnaires often contain items that may reflect personal
distress or sympathy in addition to empathy. Childrens
self-reported personal distress on questionnaires tends
not to be related to childrens prosocial behavior (e.g.,
Eisenberg, Carlo, et al., 1995; Eisenberg, Miller, et al.,
1991; Litvack-Miller et al., 1997), although a weak neg-
ative relation was obtained with adolescents (Estrada,
1995). It may be that questionnaire measures of personal
distress, which have been adapted from work with
adults, are not optimal for children.
In brief, recent research findings are consistent with
the conclusion that sympathy and sometimes empathy
(depending on its operationalization) are positively re-
lated to prosocial behavior, whereas personal distress,
particularly as assessed with nonverbal measures, is
negatively related (or unrelated for self-reports) to
prosocial behavior. As might be expected, there is more
evidence of associations within contexts than across
contexts, although children with a sympathetic disposi-
tion appear to be somewhat more prosocial in general
than are other children. In addition, there is evidence
that the relation of sympathy to prosocial behavior is
moderated by dispositional perspective taking (Knight
et al., 1994) and moral reasoning (Miller et al., 1996).
Thus, it is important to identify dispositional and situa-
tional factors that influence when and whether empa-
thy-related situational reactions and dispositional
characteristics are related to prosocial behavior.
Some, but not all, aspects of personality likely have a
substantial genetic basis. Thus, some of the research on
personality correlates (particularly those viewed as part
of temperament, such as negative emotionality) is rele-
vant to an understanding of the constitutional bases of
prosocial behavior and empathy. Moreover, information
on the personality correlates of prosocial behavior could
provide clues to the environmental origins of prosocial
behavior when there is evidence of a link between a
given aspect of personality and socialization.
Consistency of Prosocial Behavior
The assertion that there are personality correlates of
prosocial behavior implies a more basic assumption: that
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Dispositional and Personality Correlates of Prosocial Behavior 689
there is some consistency in childrens prosocial re-
sponding. Consistency of the existence of an altruistic
(or moral) personality has been an issue of debate for
many years and continues to be discussed in the social
psychological literature (see Batson, 1991; Eisenberg,
Guthrie, et al., 2002). The empirical findings are re-
viewed in some detail in other sources (Eisenberg &
Fabes, 1998; Graziano & Eisenberg, 1997) and, conse-
quently, are merely summarized briefly here.
Although findings differ considerably across mea-
sures of prosocial responding and age, there is evidence
of modest consistency across situations and time. Evi-
dence of consistency is weakest in studies of infants and
preschoolers (e.g., Dunn & Munn, 1986; Eisenberg
et al., 1984; Strayer & Roberts, 1989), but sometimes
modest or even compelling evidence of consistency has
been obtained (e.g., Denham et al., 1994; Gill &
Calkins, 2003; Kienbaum et al., 2001; Robinson et al.,
2001; van der Mark et al., 2002). Although nonsignifi-
cant correlations have been obtained in some studies
(e.g., Koenig et al., 2004), positive relations among mea-
sures of prosocial or empathy-related responding, across
situations, raters, or time, often have been obtained in
studies of elementary school children (e.g., Dekovic &
Janssens, 1992; Hastings et al., 2000; Rushton & Teach-
man, 1978; Strayer & Roberts, 1997b; Tremblay, Vitaro,
Gagnon, Piche, & Royer, 1992, Vitaro, Gagnon, & Trem-
blay, 1990, 1991; Warden, Cheyne, Christie, Fitz-
patrick, & Reid, 2003; Welsh et al., 2001) and
particularly adolescents (Davis & Franzoi, 1991; Eberly
& Montemayor, 1999; Eisenberg, Carlo, et al., 1995;
Goodman, 2001; Savin-Williams, Small, & Zeldin,
1981; Wentzel, 2003). Given the diversity of motives
likely to be associated with prosocial- and empathy-re-
lated responses, it is impressive that investigators fre-
quently have found significant relations across
situations or time, even if many are modest in size.
Sociability and Shyness
Sociability, which likely has a temperamental basis (see
Kagan & Fox or Rothbart & Bates, Chapter 3, this
Handbook, this volume), appears to influence if and
when children assist others. In preschool and beyond,
children who are prone to participate in activities at
school (Jennings et al., 1987), who tend to approach
novel people and things (Stanhope et al., 1987), and who
are sociable and low in shyness, social anxiety, or social
withdrawal are somewhat more likely to help than are
other children (Diener & Kim, 2004; Eisenberg, Fabes,
Karbon, Murphy, Carlo, & Wosinski, 1996; Hart et al.,
2003; Howes & Farver, 1987; Ingls, Hidalgo, Mendz,
& Inderbitzen, 2003; Russell et al., 2003; Silva, 1992;
cf. Farver & Branstetter, 1994). Moreover, behavioral
inhibition at age 2 years has been associated with lower
empathy and prosocial behavior, especially with
strangers (Young, Fox, & Zahn-Waxler, 1999). In one
study, however (Volling et al., 2004), preschoolers who
were high in social fear were relatively likely to provide
caregiving to a young sibling during a separation from
mother, perhaps because they were especially likely to
experience their siblings distress and were not inhibited
in interactions with the sibling.
There is some reason to believe that early adolescents
high in evaluative concerns are more prosocial and less
aggressive toward others (if one controls for depression;
Rudolph & Conley, 2005). Perhaps children and youth
prone to social anxiety are particularly likely to engage
in prosocial behavior with those they know; they also
may be more easily socialized to comply with adults
expectations for prosocial behavior. In one of the few
other studies of adolescents, social anxiety was posi-
tively correlated with dispositional personal distress but
not sympathy (Davis & Franzoi, 1991).
Sociability is particularly likely to be associated
with the performance of prosocial behaviors that are
spontaneously emitted (rather than in response to a re-
quest for assistance; Eisenberg et al., 1981; Eisenberg
et al., 1984; Eisenberg-Berg & Hand, 1979) or directed
toward an unfamiliar person in an unfamiliar setting
(rather than a familiar person at home; Stanhope et al.,
1987; Young et al., 1999). Further, extroversion (which
includes an element of sociability) was related to ele-
mentary school childrens helping in an emergency when
another peer was present ( but not when the child was
alone) and to helping that involved approaching the other
person; introverts tended to help in ways that did not in-
volve approaching the injured individual (Suda & Fouts,
1980). Thus, sociable children seem to be more proso-
cial than their less social peers when assisting another
involves social initiation or results in social interaction.
Social Competence and Socially
Appropriate Behavior
Because prosocial behavior is socially appropriate in
many contexts, it is not surprising that childrens proso-
cial behavior often is correlated with indexes of socially
appropriate behavior. Although not all researchers have
obtained significant results (e.g., Sawyer et al., 2002),
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690 Prosocial Development
prosocial children tend to be viewed by adults as so-
cially skilled and constructive copers (Cassidy et al.,
2003; Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1996; Eisen-
berg, Guthrie, et al., 1997; Eisenberg, Fabes, Karlo,
Murphy, Wosinski, et al., 1996; Ingls et al., 2003; Pe-
terson, Ridley-Johnson, & Carter, 1984) and are high in
social problem-solving skills (Marsh, Serafica, &
Barenboim, 1981; also see Warden & Mackinnon,
2003), positive social interaction with peers (Farver &
Branstetter, 1994; Howes & Farver, 1987; also see War-
den & Mackinnon, 2003), developmentally advanced
play (Howes & Matheson, 1992), and cooperation (e.g.,
Dunn & Munn, 1986; Jennings et al., 1987). In addition,
sympathy and empathy have been correlated (sometimes
over years) with enacted or adult-reported socially com-
petent behavior (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1995; Eisenberg,
Fabes, Murphy, Karbon, et al., 1996; Murphy, Shepard,
Eisenberg, Fabes, & Guthrie, 1999; see Eisenberg &
Miller, 1987) or with self-reports of number of friends
(Coleman & Byrd, 2003).
Consistent with the link between socially appropriate
behavior and prosocial behavior, preschoolers prosocial
and sympathetic responding have been linked to having
a close friend or more friends (Clark & Ladd, 2000;
Coleman & Byrd, 2003; Farver & Branstetter, 1994;
McGuire & Weisz, 1982; Sebanc, 2003; cf. Huebner &
Mancini, 2003), supportive peer relationships (de Guz-
man & Carlos, 2004; Laible et al., 2000; Sebanc, 2003;
Lerner et al., 2005), the receipt of prosocial actions
from peers (Persson, in press), less conflict with friends
(Dunn, Cutting, & Fisher, 2002), low levels of peer vic-
timization (Johnson et al., 2002; cf. Coleman & Byrd,
2003), and being popular (rather than rejected) with
peers (Caprara et al., 2000; Clark & Ladd, 2000; Cole-
man & Byrd, 2003; Dekovic & Gerris, 1994; Dekovic &
Janssens, 1992; Denham, Blair, et al., 2003; Eisenberg,
Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1996; Hampson, 1984; Keane &
Calkins, 2004; Pakaslahti & Keltikangas-Jrvinen,
2001; Ramsey, 1988; Slaugher et al., 2002; Tremblay
et al., 1992; Warden et al., 2003; Welsh et al., 2001;
Wentzel, 2003; Wilson, 2003; also see Haselager, Cil-
lessen, Van Lieshout, Riksen-Walraven, & Hartup,
2002; LaFontana & Cillessen, 2002; Pakaslahti et al.,
2002; cf. McGuire & Weisz, 1982). Stability of rejection
by peers in early elementary school is predicted by low
levels of childrens prosocial behavior (Vitaro et al.,
1990); childrens skill at comforting predicts whether
children are rejected, neglected, or accepted by peers
(Burleson et al., 1986); and nonsupportive goals or
strategies in hypothetical help-giving situations are
linked to having few and lower quality friends (Rose &
Asher, 2004). Clark and Ladd (2000) obtained concur-
rent relations consistent with the hypothesis that chil-
drens prosocial tendencies mediate the relation
between a positive, warm parent-child relationship and
childrens peer acceptance and number of mutual
friends. In addition, mature prosocial moral reasoning
has been positively correlated with sociometric status,
as well as with teachers reports of social competence
and low levels of acting-out behavior (Bear & Rys,
1994). Thus, children who are prosocial tend to have
positive relationships and interactions with peers.
Degree of social competence or popularity also may
affect the types of prosocial behavior children prefer to
perform. Hampson (1984) found that popular prosocial
adolescents tended to engage in peer-related prosocial
behavior, whereas less popular helpers preferred non-
peer-related tasks. Peer acceptance may affect chil-
drens comfort level when helping peers; alternatively,
people who prefer to help in ways that do not involve so-
cial contact with peers may be less popular due to their
avoidant behavior.
Aggression and Externalizing Problems
Prosocial children are relatively likely to evaluate ag-
gression negatively (Nelson & Crick, 1999) and are low
in aggression and externalizing problems (e.g., Caprara
et al., 2000; Caprara, Barbaranelli, & Pastorelli, 2001;
Crick, Casas, & Mosher, 1997; Diener & Kim, 2004;
Denham, Blair, et al., 2003; Goodman, 1994; Hughes
et al., 2000; Ingls et al., 2003; Keane & Calkins, 2004;
Ma & Leung, 1991; Muris, Meesters, & van den Berg,
2003; Nagin & Tremblay, 2001; Uggen & Janikula,
1999; Warden et al., 2003; Welsh et al., 2001; Wilson,
2003; also see Haselager et al., 2002; Silva, 1992;
Slaughter et al., 2002; Youniss, McLellan, Su, & Yates,
1999). Relations are found across time: Hay and Pawlby
(2003) found that externalizing problems at age 4 pre-
dicted low levels of prosocial behavior at age 11. Fur-
thermore, sympathy (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al.,
1996; Laible, Carlos, & Raffaelli, 2000; Murphy et al.,
1999; Zahn-Waxler et al., 1995) and empathy (Albiero
& Lo Coco, 2001; Braaten & Rosen, 2000; Cohen &
Strayer, 1995; Endresen & Olweus, 2001; Strayer &
Roberts, 2004a; Warden & Mackinnon, 2003; see Miller
& Eisenberg, 1988, for a review) have been linked to low
levels of externalizing problem behaviors (including ag-
gression or ADHD). Childrens and adolescents self-
reported delinquency and externalizing problem
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Dispositional and Personality Correlates of Prosocial Behavior 691
behaviors also have been negatively related to their self-
reported empathic efficacy (Bandura et al., 2001, 2003).
The relation of prosocial responding to aggression
likely varies depending on the actors motive for engag-
ing in prosocial behavior. Although prosocial actions
that involve a positive affective response to an individ-
ual and those not motivated by personal gain tend to be
negatively related to adolescents reports of aggression
(and their belief that aggression is acceptable), reports
of prosocial actions performed for personal gain have
been positively related to reported aggressive actions
and the acceptance of aggression (Boxer et al., 2004).
The relation between aggressiveness and prosocial
behavior may be more complex in the early years than at
older ages. Gil and Calkins (2003) found that aggressive
toddlers displayed more evidence of empathy or concern
than less aggressive toddlers. Moreover, Yarrow et al.
(1976) found a positive correlation between prosocial
and aggressive behavior for preschool boys ( but not
girls) below the mean in exhibited aggression, whereas
there was a negative relation between prosocial behavior
and aggression for boys above the mean in aggression.
For those young children who are relatively nonaggres-
sive overall, aggression often may be indicative of as-
sertiveness rather than hostility or the intent to harm
another (Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989). Moreover, the
lack of regulation reflected in aggression may allow
young children to approach and exhibit concern toward
an unfamiliar adult (the measure of concern used by Gil
and Calkins, 2003).
Thus, a negative relation between aggression and
prosocial tendencies may develop with age. Although
Hastings and colleagues (2000) did not find a relation
between concern for others and the behavior problems of
4- to 5-year-olds, children with clinical behavior prob-
lems decreased in their concern and were reported by
both mothers and themselves to be relatively low in con-
cern by age 6 to 7 years. Moreover, greater concern at 4
to 5 years predicted a decline in the severity of external-
izing problems over the 2 years. Thus, the inverse rela-
tion between sympathy and externalizing problems
seems to begin consolidation during the preschool to
early school years.
Assertiveness and Dominance
Assertiveness and dominance also have been associated
with frequency and type of childrens prosocial behav-
iors. Assertive children (e.g., those who issue commands
or defend their possessions) are relatively high in sym-
pathy versus personal distress reactions (Eisenberg,
Fabes, et al., 1990) and prosocial behavior (Barrett &
Yarrow, 1977; Denham & Couchoud, 1991; Ingls et al.,
2003; Larrieu & Mussen, 1986), particularly sponta-
neously emitted (unrequested) instances of helping and
sharing (Eisenberg et al., 1984; cf. Eisenberg et al.,
1981). A certain level of assertiveness may be necessary
for many children to spontaneously approach others
needing assistance. In contrast, nonassertive, nondomi-
nant children tend to be prosocial in response to a re-
quest (Eisenberg et al., 1981; Eisenberg et al., 1984;
Larrieu, 1984), apparently because they frequently are
asked for help or sharing (probably due to their compli-
ance; Eisenberg, McCreath, & Ahn, 1988; Eisenberg
et al., 1981). Children who are not simply assertive but
seek to dominate others may be low in prosocial behav-
ior (Krebs & Sturrup, 1984).
Self-Esteem and Related Constructs
It appears that there is a positive relation between chil-
drens self-esteem and their prosocial tendencies, but
more so for older than for younger children. In studies of
preschoolers and elementary school children, investiga-
tors typically have found no evidence of a relation be-
tween self-reports of self-esteem or self-concept and
measures of prosocial behavior (Cauley & Tyler, 1989;
Rehberg & Richman, 1989). In studies of children in
fourth grade to high school, investigators generally have
found that prosocial children have a positive self-
concept (Laible & Carlo, 2004; Larrieu & Mussen,
1986; Rigby & Slee, 1993; also see Jacobs et al., 2004;
cf. Huebner & Mancini, 2003; Karafantis & Levy,
2004), are high in self-efficacy (Bandura et al., 2001,
2003; Lichter et al., 2002; Sugiyama, Matsui, Satoh,
Yoshimi, & Takeuchi, 1992), and tend to have prosocial
self-schemas (that affect donating when children are
self-aware; Froming, Nasby, & McManus, 1998). John-
son et al. (1998) found that girls, but not boys, with
higher academic and positive self-esteem in ninth grade
were more likely to volunteer in grades 10 to 12. Perhaps
young childrens self-reports do not adequately tap rele-
vant dimensions of their self-concepts. However, it is
also possible that young childrens self-concept often is
not based on enduring characteristics that are relevant to
prosocial responding (see Harter, Chapter 9, this Hand-
book, this volume).
It also is probable that the relation between self-
concept or self-esteem and prosocial behavior varies as
a function of the psychological significance or quality of
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692 Prosocial Development
the prosocial act. Children who are anxious or emotion-
ally unstable may enact prosocial behaviors to ingrati-
ate, avoid disapproval, or prevent overreactivity to social
distress. In fact, there is some evidence that boys who
are particularly high in prosocial behavior performed or
promised in a public context are anxious, inhibited, and
emotionally unstable (Bond & Phillips, 1971; OCon-
nor, Dollinger, Kennedy, & Pelletier-Smetko, 1979).
Similarly, Jacobs et al. (2004) found that although so-
cially confident adolescents were relatively high in self-
reported prosocial activities, so were anxious
adolescents. Youth who had a low social self-concept but
were not worried about their standing with peers were
lower in prosocial activities than the socially confident
or anxious adolescents.
The association between older childrens self-
conceptions and prosocial behavior probably is bidirec-
tional in causality. Children who feel good about
themselves may be able to focus on others needs be-
cause their own needs are being met; further, they may
feel that they have the competencies needed to assist oth-
ers. In addition, it has been argued that involvement in
activities that help others may foster the development of
self-efficacy (Yates & Youniss, 1996b). It is reasonable
to assume that the performance of socially competent
behavior, including prosocial behavior, and childrens
self-concept are complexly related during development.
Values and Goals
An important component of the self is ones values.
Colby and Damon (1992) noted two morally relevant
characteristics that were dramatically evident in adult
moral exemplars: (1) exemplars certainty or excep-
tional clarity about what they believed was right and
about their own personal responsibility to act in ways
consistent with those beliefs; and (2) the unity of self
and moral goals, that is, the central role of exemplars
moral goals in their conceptions of their own identity
and the integration of moral and personal goals.
Consistent with Colby and Damons findings, Hart
and Fegley (1995) found that adolescents who demon-
strated exceptional commitments to care for others were
particularly likely to describe themselves in terms of
moral personality traits and goals and to articulate the-
ories of self in which personal beliefs and philosophies
were important. Moreover, Pratt et al. (2003) found that
adolescents who were more actively involved in commu-
nity helping activities reported closer agreement with
parents about the importance of moral values for the self
2 years later than did their less involved peers.
More generally, there is evidence that prosocial be-
havior is positively associated with measures of moral
functioning, including other-oriented values and beliefs
(Dlugokinski & Firestone, 1974; Janoski, Musick, &
Wison, 1998; Larrieu & Mussen, 1986); social responsi-
bility, responsibility goals, or low levels of irresponsi-
bility (Savin-Williams et al., 1981; Wentzel, 2003);
integrative goals (i.e., concern with the maintenance
and promotion of other individuals or social groups;
Estrada, 1995); guilt or need for reparation (Caprara
et al., 2001; Chapman, Zahn-Waxler, Cooperman, &
Iannotti, 1987); and low levels of moral disengagement
(Bandura et al., 2001). Further, adolescents sometimes
cite moral values and responsibility for others as rea-
sons for enacting prosocial behaviors (e.g., Carlo, Eisen-
berg, & Knight, 1992; Eisenberg, Carlo, et al., 1995).
Thus, it appears that older children and adolescents who
have internalized moral (including altruistic) values and
who view morality as central to their self-concept are
particularly likely to be altruistic. In addition, prosocial
tendencies appear to be linked to relational rather than
instrumental goals (Nelson & Crick, 1999) and to col-
laborative goals in the school environment (Cheung, Ma,
& Shek, 1998).
In addition, empathic or sympathetic youth not only
exhibit values and a social conscience (Lerner et al.,
2005), but also may be more likely than less responsive
youth to extend their prosocial behaviors to members
outside their own group. Empathic youth are more likely
than their less empathic peers to say that they are com-
fortable being near children who are different from
them and who might be viewed negatively (e.g., a child
who is depressed, immature, aggressive, overweight, or
doing poorly academically; Bryant, 1982; cf. Strayer &
Roberts, 1997a). Similarly, sympathetic youth value di-
versity (Lerner et al., 2005), and school children feel
less interpersonal distance from those with whom they
empathize/sympathize (Strayer & Roberts, 1997a; see,
however, Batson, Chang, Orr, & Rowland, 2002). Inclu-
sive reactions such as these would be expected to en-
hance prosocial behavior directed toward out-group
members (Oliner & Oliner, 1988).
Religiosity (as measured by attending religious services)
has been positively related to participation in volunteer
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Dispositional and Personality Correlates of Prosocial Behavior 693
activities during adolescence (Huebner & Mancini,
2003; Lichter et al., 2002) and predicts subsequent vol-
unteering behavior in early adulthood (Zaff et al., 2003).
Similarly, going to a Catholic or church-based school
( but not being Catholic; Youniss, McLellan, Su, & Yates,
1999) predicted adolescents community service
(Youniss, McLellan, & Yates, 1999). Because involve-
ment in church and other community-based youth
groups is related to doing volunteer service (McLellan
& Youniss, 2003), it is likely that religious institutions
provide opportunities for organized prosocial activities.
In addition, Youniss, McLellan, and Yates (1999) argued
that involvement in church-sponsored services makes it
more likely that youth will internalize or adopt the reli-
gious rationales provided for engaging in service. More
generally, a religious identity, if it involves moral over-
tones, has been linked with a prosocial personality (Fur-
row, King, & White, 2004). At this time, it is unclear
whether prosocial behavior is differentially linked to
identification with, or acceptance of, various religions.
In studies involving adult-reported or behavioral mea-
sures of self-regulation (generally defined in terms of
processes involved in modulating emotional states and
behaviors; Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Sadovsky, in press),
prosocial children tend to be relatively well regulated,
as well as low in impulsivity (e.g., Eisenberg, Fabes,
Karbon, Murphy, Wosinski, et al., 1996; Eisenberg,
Fabes, Karlo, Murphy, Wosinski, et al., 1996; Eisen-
berg, Guthrie, et al., 1997; Moore, Barresi, & Thomp-
son, 1998; Rothbart, Ahadi, & Hershey, 1994; Silva,
1992; Thompson, Barresi, Moore, 1997; Wilson, 2003;
also see Deater-Deckard, Dunn, et al., 2001). The asso-
ciation between regulation and prosociality is not sur-
prising because engaging in prosocial actions often
requires regulated behavior and emotion (e.g., control-
ling ones own negative emotion) or involves actions that
help regulate others emotions (Bergin, Talley, &
Hamer, 2003). In fact, degree of regulation is a stronger
positive predictor of prosocial behavior for children
prone to negative emotions such as anger (Diener &
Kim, 2004; also see Eisenberg, Guthrie, et al., 1997).
Similarly, sympathy has been associated with high
levels of childrens regulation (Eisenberg & Fabes,
1995; Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, Karbon, et al., 1996;
Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1996; Eisenberg, Liew,
& Pidada, 2001; Murphy et al., 1999), whereas personal
distress sometimes has been associated with low regula-
tion (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, Maszk, et al., 1994,
Ungerer et al., 1990; Valiente et al., 2004; cf. Eisenberg
& Fabes, 1995). The few findings for empathy are
mixed, some positive (Sneed, 2002), some not
(Saklofske & Eysenck, 1983). In addition, resilient chil-
dren, who may be viewed as optimally regulated, tend to
be prosocial and empathic (Atkins, Hart, & Donnelly,
2005; Eisenberg, Guthrie, et al., 1997; Strayer &
Roberts, 1989; also see Hart et al., 1998). In contrast,
boys with ADHD were found to be lower on empathy
than boys without a diagnosis of ADHD. Because chil-
dren diagnosed with ADHD have low attentional con-
trol, these children may be at a disadvantage for the
development of empathy and prosocial behavior
(Braaten & Rosen, 2000).
It appears that well-regulated children can modulate
their vicarious arousal and, consequently, focus their at-
tention on others emotions and needs rather than on
their own aversive vicarious emotion (Trommsdorff &
Friedlmeier, 1999). Consistent with this idea, Bengtsson
(2003) found that Swedish elementary school students
who were high in self-reported empathy and teacher-re-
ported prosocial behavior tended to experience moder-
ate (rather than high) levels of threat and to modulate
the emotional significance of empathy-eliciting stimuli
through cognitive restructuring (which can be viewed as
a mode of emotion regulation). Moreover, well-regu-
lated children would be expected to be relatively likely
to sustain their attentional focus on others and to sup-
press any tendencies to try to avoid contact with dis-
tressed or needy individuals.
Findings for measures of physiological emotional reg-
ulation are somewhat inconsistent and may vary as a
function of age of the child or evocativeness of the em-
pathy-inducing situation. In the relevant studies, physio-
logical emotion-related regulation often is assessed
with higher heart rate variance, high vagal tone, or vagal
suppression. These intercorrelated measures, especially
the latter two, are viewed as reflecting emotion-related
physiological regulation based on the control of
parasympathetic functioning by the vagal nerve (Porges
et al., 1994; see Rothbart & Bates, Chapter 3, this Hand-
book, this volume). Such measures have been positively
related with elementary school students observed com-
forting (Eisenberg, Fabes, Karbon, Murphy, Carlo, &
Wosinski, 1996) and dispositional sympathy (Fabes
et al., 1993), although findings for girls have been posi-
tive for maternal report of girls sympathy (Fabes et al.,
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694 Prosocial Development
1993), but negative for girls self-reported sympathy
(and positive for boys sympathy; Eisenberg, Fabes,
Murphy, Karbon, Smith, et al., 1996).
Moreover, contrary to expectations, toddlers vagal
suppression in response to a crying infant was negatively
related to observed concern in response to an adult
feigning distress to an injury (Gill & Calkins, 2003).
Similarly, Zahn-Waxler et al. (1995) found that pre-
school childrens concerned reactions during the same
type of feigned injury task were negatively related to
their vagal tone. The same childrens vagal tone was
weakly negatively related to teacher- ( but not parent- or
child-reported) prosocial behavior 2 years later (Hast-
ings et al., 2000). Gill and Calkins suggested that a pos-
itive relation between concern and physiological
regulation might develop with age. Alternatively, it may
be difficult to differentiate between personal distress
and sympathy with some of the measures (e.g., reactions
to feigned distress) typically used with younger chil-
dren. It is not clear whether the complex pattern of find-
ings is due to age-related factors, to differences in the
measures of prosocial behavior used with younger and
older children, or to other moderating factors.
Children who are emotionally positivea characteristic
that may be viewed as partly an outcome of emotional
regulationalso tend to be prosocial (Denham, 1986;
Denham & Burger, 1991; Eisenberg et al., 1981; Garner
& Estep, 2001; also see Bandura et al., 2003; cf. Braaten
& Rosen, 2000; Denham, Blair, et al., 2003; Farver &
Branstetter, 1994) and empathic/sympathetic (Eisen-
berg, Fabes, Murphy, Karbon, et al., 1996; Robinson
et al., 1994; also see Eisenberg et al., 1994; cf. Volling,
Herrera, & Poris, 2004). In contrast, the data pertaining
to the relation between negative emotionality and proso-
cial responding are more complex. Prosocial behavior
generally (albeit sometimes for one sex or the other) has
been negatively related to negative emotionality, includ-
ing anger, fear, anxiety, or sadness (Bandura et al.,
2001; Denham, 1986; Denham & Burger, 1991; Diener
& Kim, 2004; Eisenberg, Fabes, Karbon, Murphy,
Wosinski, et al., 1996; Hoffner & Haefner, 1997; Ma &
Leung, 1991, Tremblay et al., 1992; Volling et al., 2004;
Wentzel & McNamara, 1999; also see Caprara, Bar-
baranelli, Pastorelli, et al., 2001; Strayer & Roberts,
2004a, 2004b; cf. Denham & Burger, 1991; Farver &
Branstetter, 1994; Hart et al., 2003), albeit not for some
measures of depression or internalizing problems (Ban-
dura et al., 2003; Goodman, 1994; Hay & Pawlby, 2003;
Muris et al., 2003). In addition, intensity of emotional
responding in general may be negatively related to
prosocial tendencies (Garner & Estep, 2001). However,
relations of negative emotionality (intensity and/or fre-
quency) to empathy/sympathy have been negative
(Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, Karbon, et al., 1996; Eisen-
berg, Fabes, Shepard, et al., 1998; Murphy et al., 1999;
Roberts & Strayer, 1996, for anger; Strayer & Roberts,
2004a; van der Mark et al., 2002), nonsignificant
(Braaten & Rosen, 2000; Denham, Blair, et al., 2003),
and positive (Saklofske & Eysenck, 1983), although
positive findings have been obtained primarily when
negative emotionality was measured during the early
years and related to empathy (or mixed empathy and
sympathy) rather than sympathy (Howes & Farver,
1987; Robinson et al., 1994; Rothbart et al., 1994).
There also is some evidence that children who are ex-
tremely worried about the well-being of family members
are relatively prosocial (Hay & Pawlby, 2003).
Thus, in general, prosocial behavior and sympathy or
empathy have been linked to dispositional positive
emotionality. Further, low negative emotionality has
been consistently associated with childrens prosocial
behavior, but not young childrens empathy/sympathy.
The inconsistencies in findings may be partly due to
both type and intensity of the negative emotion experi-
enced and type of measure. Relations between negative
emotionality and empathy/sympathy or prosocial be-
havior seem to be negative especially for externalizing
types of emotions (e.g., anger) rather than depression,
anxiety, or dysphoric emotions (e.g., Laible et al., 2000;
Strayer & Roberts, 2004a). Childrens anger and frus-
tration seem to be salient to adults and, like aggression,
covary inversely with prosocial behaviors and empathy-
related emotions.
In addition, intensity of negative emotion may be re-
lated to whether people experience sympathy or per-
sonal distress, which, in turn, predicts prosocial
behavior. Eisenberg et al. (1994) proposed that situa-
tional emotional overarousal due to empathy is associ-
ated with personal distress, whereas moderate empathic
responding is associated with sympathy (also see Hoff-
man, 1982). If people can maintain their vicarious emo-
tional reactions at a tolerable range, they are likely to
vicariously experience the emotion of needy or dis-
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The Role of Relationship History in Prosocial Behavior 695
tressed others, but are relatively unlikely to become
overwhelmed by the emotion and, consequently, self-
focused. In contrast, people who are overaroused by vi-
carious negative emotion are expected to experience
that emotion as aversive and as a distressed, self-
focused reaction (personal distress). Consistent with
this view, general negative emotional arousal has been
found to result in a self-focus (Wood, Saltzberg, &
Goldsamt, 1990), and empathically induced distress re-
actions are associated with higher skin conductance re-
activity than is sympathy (Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller,
Carlo, & Miller, 1991; Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller,
Miller, et al., 1991).
Based on this line of reasoning, Eisenberg and col-
leagues argued that individual differences in the dispo-
sitional tendency to experience sympathy versus
personal distress vary as a function of dispositional dif-
ferences in both typical level of emotional intensity and
individuals abilities to regulate their emotional reac-
tions. People high in effortful regulation (e.g., who have
control over their ability to focus and shift attention) are
hypothesized to be relatively high in sympathy regard-
less of their emotional intensity. Well-regulated people
would be expected to modulate their negative vicarious
emotion and to maintain an optimal level of emotional
arousal that has emotional force and enhances attention,
but is not so aversive and physiologically arousing that it
engenders a self-focus. In contrast, people low in the
ability to regulate their emotion, especially if they are
emotionally intense, are hypothesized to be low in dis-
positional sympathy. Further, measures of tendencies to
display anger and frustration probably partly reflect low
regulation and high emotional reactivity and, conse-
quently, would be expected to relate to personal distress
and low prosocial behavior.
Modest support has been obtained for these ideas. As
noted, regulation has been linked to high sympathy and
low personal distress. Further, low and moderate levels
of negative emotional intensity, but not high levels, have
been associated with situational concern (Eisenberg &
Fabes, 1995) and children who experience more nega-
tive emotion than that of the stimulus person eliciting
empathy (i.e., become overaroused) are relatively low in
empathy/sympathy (Strayer, 1993). In addition, there is
limited evidence that unregulated children are low in
sympathy regardless of their level of emotional intensity
whereas, for moderately and highly regulated children,
level of sympathy increases with level of emotional in-
tensity (Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, Karbon, et al., 1996;
also see Eisenberg et al., 1998).
Thus, there is initial support for the notion that emo-
tional intensity (including intensity of both positive and
negative emotions) interacts with regulation in predict-
ing childrens sympathy, although the pattern of rela-
tions is complex and depends on the type of regulation.
For children in mid-elementary school, behavioral regu-
lation was positively related to dispositional sympathy
for boys who were average or high, but not low, in the
tendency to experience emotions intensely. In contrast,
attentional regulation predicted high dispositional sym-
pathy (for both sexes) only for children low in general
emotional intensity. For children low in emotional inten-
sity, attentional control may be important in helping
children focus on and process others emotions and
needs (Eisenberg et al., 1998).
Positive relations between some measures of negative
emotionality and empathy/sympathy in the literature
also may be due to empathic or sympathetic people
being relatively likely to express or report their emo-
tions (see Roberts & Strayer, 1996), in empathy-induc-
ing contexts (Roberts & Strayer, 1996; also see
Eisenberg, Losoya, et al., 2001). In future work on em-
pathy-related reactions, it will be useful to differentiate
among types of negative emotion (e.g., externalizing
and internalizing emotions), between expressed (i.e.,
observable) and experienced emotion, and between indi-
viduals general emotional intensity and the intensity of
solely negative emotions.
The degree to which children are prosocial frequently
depends on the identity and characteristics of the poten-
tial recipient. Children prefer to help people who are
relatively important in their lives, such as family mem-
bers (e.g., Killen & Turiel, 1998; Rheingold et al., 1976;
van der Mark et al., 2002; Young et al., 1999). In adoles-
cence, help is as likely or more likely to be directed to-
ward known peers as toward known, nonfamilial adults
(e.g., Zeldin, Savin-Williams, & Small, 1984). More-
over, children often share or help friends or liked peers
more than less liked peers (Buhrmester, Goldfarb, &
Cantrell, 1992) or acquaintances (Buhrmester et al.,
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696 Prosocial Development
1992; Farver & Branstetter, 1994; Pilgram & Rueda-
Riedle, 2002; Rao & Stewart, 1999). In fact, children as
young as age 4 or 5 years or in elementary school report
more sympathy toward the plight of a friend or liked
peer than toward an acquaintance (Costin & Jones,
1992). Prosocial behavior among friends appears to be
motivated by not only liking and concern (Costin &
Jones, 1992), but also loyalty, consideration of reciproc-
ity obligations, and the fact that friends more often ask
for sharing or help (Birch & Billman, 1986).
Sometimes children are equally prosocial to friends
and other peers or even help or share less with friends
(Berndt, Hawkins, & Hoyle, 1986). In studies in which
children have had to choose between friends and
strangers, children apparently sometimes assisted peo-
ple they did not know well to eliminate inequities be-
tween a stranger and a friend because they believed that
their friend would understand, they wanted to gain the
unknown persons approval or friendship, or they were
competing with the friend (Berndt, 1982; Staub & No-
erenberg, 1981).
Based on stereotypic gender roles, females generally are
expected and believed to be more responsive, empathic,
and prosocial than males, whereas males are expected to
be relatively independent and achievement oriented
(e.g., Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1974). Further,
cross-cultural work has verified that gender differences
in prosocial responding are not limited to only a few cul-
tures and may develop with age. Whiting and Edwards
(1973) found that helpfulness and support giving gener-
ally were greater for girls than boys across six different
cultures, although these differences were significant for
older but not younger children. More recent work con-
firms the cross-cultural tendency of girls to be more
prosocial than boys (e.g., Carlo, Reoesch, Knight, &
Koller, 2001; Russell et al., 2003).
Despite the prevailing view that females are more
prosocial than males, findings vary depending on the
age of the actor and the type of prosocial behavior. Eagly
and Crowley (1986) conducted a meta-analysis of sex
differences in older adolescents and adults helping be-
havior and found that men helped more than women,
particularly in situations involving instrumental and
chivalrous assistance. Sex differences in helping were
inconsistent across studies and were successfully pre-
dicted by various attributes of the studies. Carlo et al.
(2003) also found sex differences varied with type of re-
ported prosocial behavior: Adolescent girls were more
likely to report altruistic and emotional prosocial behav-
iors than were boys; boys were more likely to report
prosocial tendencies in public situations; and no sex dif-
ferences were found in situations involving anonymous
or compliant prosocial behavior or helping in dire cir-
cumstances. Becker and Eagly (2004) examined extreme
forms of prosocial behaviorheroismand found that
men were overrepresented in some forms of heroism
(e.g., Carnegie Hero Fund medalists who engaged in
life-risking rescue actions), but in other heroic actions
(organ donors, peace corps volunteers, holocaust res-
cuers), the percentage of women was at least equal to
and, in several cases, higher than that found for men.
Such findings suggest that the qualities associated with
different types of prosocial behavior (e.g., the role of
risk taking in extremely dangerous heroic acts) more
likely explain differences in males and females ten-
dencies to engage in prosocial actions than a general sex
difference model of prosociality per se.
Eisenberg and Fabes (1998) reported a meta-analysis
of sex differences in childrens prosocial behavior in-
volving 259 studies yielding a total of 450 effect sizes
(M age = 7.93 years). Only one effect size was used per
sample (i.e., when different variables were used for a
single sample, one was selected randomly). For both the
full and partial sample of effect sizes, the mean un-
weighted effect size was modest (.18) and favored girls.
Although effect sizes were significant for all types of
prosocial behavior and for various design, method, or re-
cipient characteristics, they varied in strength by the
type of prosocial behavior studied. Sex differences were
significantly greater when prosocial responding was
measured with self-reports or reports from others than
with observational methods. The effect size also was
significantly greater for aggregated indices or indices
reflecting kindness/consideration than for indices re-
flecting instrumental help, comforting, or sharing, and
in correlational /naturalistic studies than in structured/
experimental studies. However, the latter two differ-
ences disappeared when study characteristics were
controlled in regression analyses, probably because self-
report measures have been used disproportionately in
assessment of kindness/consideration and aggregated in-
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Sex Dif ferences in Childrens Prosocial Behavior 697
dices, and in observational /correlational studies. In ad-
dition, sex differences in prosocial behavior were signif-
icantly greater when the target was an adult or was
unspecified than when the target was another child.
When controlling for other study or participant vari-
ables, the sex difference in prosocial behavior was
greater for larger samples and when the age span of
study participants was relatively small. Instrumental
help also was significantly less predictive of sex differ-
ences in prosocial behavior than were other types of
prosocial indices.
These findings support Eagly and Crowleys (1986)
conclusion that sex differences in adults prosocial be-
havior vary as a function of the qualities of the studies.
In contrast to Eagly and Crowleys findings for adults
and older adolescents (combined), Eisenberg and Fabes
(1998) found that girls tended to be more prosocial than
boys. The finding that the sex difference was weakest
for instrumental helping is particularly interesting be-
cause many of the studies in the adult literature in which
men helped more were assessments of instrumental
helping (Eagly & Crowley, 1986).
With increasing age, sex differences in prosocial be-
havior tended to get larger (see Eisenberg & Fabes,
1998; Fabes, Carlo, Kupanoff, & Laible, 1999). How-
ever, the effect for age in the meta-analysis was elimi-
nated once other study qualities were controlled,
probably because type of study was associated with age,
with older children involved in more naturalistic/corre-
lational studies.
Since the Eisenberg and Fabes meta-analysis, inves-
tigators have continued to find sex differences in reports
of childrens prosocial behaviors (e.g., Bosacki, 2003;
Caprara, Barbaranelli, & Pastorelli, 2001). Peers, espe-
cially girls, are more likely to nominate girls as being
prosocial and to nominate boys as being bullies (Warden
et al., 2003; Warden & Mackinnon, 2003). Fewer differ-
ences have been found in some observational studies
(Fabes, Martin, & Hanish, 2002; contrast with Zahn-
Waxler et al., 2001). To some degree, sex differences in
self- and other-reported prosocial behavior may reflect
peoples conceptions of what boys and girls are sup-
posed to be like rather than how they actually behave.
Parents emphasize prosocial behaviors and politeness
more with their daughters than with their sons (Power &
Parke, 1986). Moreover, peers, parents, and teachers
tend to perceive girls as more prosocial than either be-
havioral or self-reported data indicate (Bond & Phillips,
1971; Shigetomi, Hartmann, & Gelfand, 1981). Further-
more, parents have been found to attribute girls actions
to inborn factors significantly more often than boys ac-
tions; whereas boys prosocial actions are more likely to
be viewed as due to environmental factors (Gretarsson &
Gelfand, 1988). These findings are consistent with the
view that girls reputations for prosocial behavior are
greater than the actual sex difference. In addition, chil-
dren may self-socialize their prosocial tendencies by
means of having their thoughts, emotions, and behav-
ioral scripts conform to parents, teachers, and peers
expectations (Maccoby, 1998). Nonetheless, there is a
small sex difference favoring girls even in observational
studies (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998), so there likely is
some truth to the stereotype.
Sex differences in the literature may also be due, in
part, to biases in measures of prosocial behavior.
Zarbatany, Hartmann, Gelfand, and Vinciguerra (1985)
argued that measures used to evaluate childrens proso-
cial tendencies include a disproportionate number of
sex-biased items favoring girls (items pertaining to
feminine activities). They found that masculine items
(e.g., helping get a cat out of a tree) elicited endorse-
ments for boys, and feminine-related and neutral items
elicited endorsements for girls. Masculine items likely
included acts of instrumental helping, the category for
which there was the smallest sex difference favoring
girls (when study characteristics were controlled) in the
Findings about sex differences in empathy and sym-
pathy, like those for prosocial behavior, vary with the
method used to assess empathy-related responding. As
mentioned, Eisenberg and Lennon (1983; also see
Lennon & Eisenberg, 1987), in a meta-analytic review,
found large differences favoring girls for self-report
measures of empathy/sympathy, especially question-
naire indices. No gender differences were found when
the measure of empathy was either physiological or un-
obtrusive observations of nonverbal behavior. In work in
which sympathy and personal distress have been differ-
entiated, investigators have obtained similar findings,
although they occasionally have found weak ( but signif-
icant) sex differences in facial reactions (generally fa-
voring females; see Eisenberg, Fabes, Schaller, &
Miller, 1989) and in observational assessments of young
children using developmentally appropriate stimuli such
as puppets to elicit distress (Kienbaum et al., 2001) or
feigned distress (Zahn-Waxler et al., 2001). Eisenberg
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698 Prosocial Development
and Lennon (1983) suggested that the general pattern of
results was due to differences among measures in the
degree to which both the intent of the measure was obvi-
ous and people could control their responses. Sex differ-
ences were greatest when demand characteristics were
high (it was clear what was being assessed) and individ-
uals had conscious control over their responses (i.e.,
self-report indices were used); gender differences were
virtually nonexistent when demand characteristics were
subtle and study participants were unlikely to exercise
much conscious control over their responding (i.e., phys-
iological indices). Thus, when gender-related stereo-
types are activated and people can easily control their
responses, they may try to project a socially desirable
image to others or to themselves.
Eisenberg and Fabes (1998; Fabes & Eisenberg,
1996) also conducted a follow-up meta-analysis of em-
pathy/sympathy data published since Eisenberg and
Lennons (1983) first review and found an overall un-
weighted effect size (favoring girls) of .34. Relatively
large effect sizes were found in self-report studies (sig-
nificantly larger than in the studies involving other
methods) and in studies in which the targets of the em-
pathic response were unspecified or unknown individu-
als. Moreover, sex differences were larger for older
children. When sex differences were examined by
method, significant sex differences favoring girls were
obtained for self-report indices (weighted effect size of
.60) and observational measures (in which a combina-
tion of behavioral and facial reactions usually were
used, .29). The gender difference in observed reactions,
especially for young children, suggests that there is a
real, albeit modest, difference in childrens empathy. No
sex differences were obtained for nonverbal facial and
physiological measures. Further, the sex difference in
self-reported empathy/sympathy increased with mean
age of the sample ( beta = .24). Sex differences in re-
ported empathy may increase as children become more
aware of, and perhaps are more likely to internalize,
sex-role stereotypes and expectations into their self-
image (Karniol et al., 1998).
Although there are no sex differences in prosocial
moral reasoning in young children, in later elementary
school and beyond, girls use more of some relatively so-
phisticated types of prosocial moral reasoning, whereas
boys sometimes verbalize more of less mature types of
reasoning (Eisenberg, Carlo, et al., 1995; Eisenberg,
Miller, et al., 1991; also see Jaffee & Hyde, 2000).
Moreover, in adolescence, femininity is positively re-
lated to internalized prosocial moral reasoning ( but also
related to hedonistic reasoning for males; Carlo et al.,
1996). It is unclear the degree to which these sex differ-
ences, which generally are relatively weak, are due to
real differences in moral reasoning or to differences in
the ways that adolescent males and females view them-
selves and desire to be viewed by others.
In summary, although girls appear to be more proso-
cial than boys, the issue of sex differences in prosocial
responding and their origins is far from resolved. It is
difficult to determine the degree to which the sex differ-
ence reflects a difference in moral or other-orientation
versus other factors (e.g., self-presentation). It also is
unclear whether the sex difference changes with age.
Although age was related to the prosocial effect size in
the univariate analysis in our meta-analysis, there was
no effect of age when study characteristics were con-
trolled. There is a need to better assess the developmen-
tal trajectory of the sex differences and to investigate
the origins of sex differences in prosocial behavior.
Based on the available evidence, prosocial action ap-
pears to be the outcome of multiple individual (includ-
ing biological) and situational factors. A simplified
model of the major variables believed to contribute to
the performance of prosocial behavior (and steps in the
process itself ) is depicted in Figure 11.1 (see Eisenberg,
1986, for extended discussion of this model). This
heuristic model can be used to integrate many of the
topics discussed in this chapter.
In our model, biological factors are viewed as having
an effect on both the childs individual characteristics
(e.g., sociocognitive development, empathy, sociability)
and parental interactions with the child (i.e., socializa-
tion experiences). The childs individual characteristics
and socialization experiences affect one another and, to-
gether with objective characteristics of the situation
(see Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998, for a review of situational
influences), influence how the child interprets events in-
volving anothers need or distress in a specific context.
For example, individual differences in perspective tak-
ing and in decoding skills, which likely are influenced
by socialization experiences as well as heritability (e.g.,
genetic effects on intelligence), may affect whether a
child notices anothers distress, as might the clarity of
dam3_c11.qxd 1/13/06 3:02 PM Page 698
An Integrative Model of Prosocial Action 699
Figure 11.1 Heuristic model of prosocial behavior. Adapted from Altruistic Emotion, Cognition, and Behavior, by N. Eisen-
berg, 1986, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
and Person
Affective States
Relevant Situational
Evaluations and
Emotional Reactions
Interpretation of,
and Attention to,
the Situation
Needy Others)
Identification of
Helping Actions
and Recognition
of Ability to Engage
in These Actions
Hiearchy of
Personal Goals
in the Specific
to Assist
of the Situation
Changes in
Situation or
Person Over Time
the distressed others nonverbal and verbal cues of emo-
tion (a situational factor). Moreover, socialization influ-
ences and person variables likely interact; as discussed,
Valiente et al. (2004) found that parental expressivity re-
lated differently to childrens sympathy and personal
distress depending on the childrens regulation. It also is
likely that antecedent characteristics interact when pre-
dicting childrens prosocial tendencies; examples were
discussed in our review (e.g., between regulation and
emotional intensity, or between perspective taking and
sympathy; Diener & Kim, 2004; Eisenberg, Fabes, Kar-
bon, et al., 1996; Knight et al., 1994).
How the child interprets the situation logically leads
to and affects the childs identification of prosocial ac-
tions and the childs recognition of his or her ability to
engage in these actions. A temporary state such as the
childs mood may determine his or her attention to, or
interpretation of, a situation (see Eisenberg & Fabes,
1998). Level of arousal seems to alter the ways in which
people interpret others verbal statements and facial ex-
pressions (Clark, Milberg, & Erber, 1983).
In addition, a child who feels capable of assisting
must then decide whether he or she intends to assist. The
childs emotional reactions (e.g., sympathy or personal
distress), relationship with the other person (which af-
fects the childs emotional reactions and perceived costs
and benefits of assisting), and attributions about the
cause of the others need or distress (e.g., whether the
needy person is responsible for his or her situation) are
examples of motivationally relevant situational evalua-
tions and emotional reactions that can play a role in this
decision. The decision of whether to engage in prosocial
action also is affected by antecedent person variables
such as individual differences in concern about social
approval, values, personal goals, and self-identity in re-
gard to the trait of altruism (see Figure 11.1).
In the given context, the various relevant moral and
nonmoral factorsbe they perceived costs and benefits,
dam3_c11.qxd 1/13/06 3:02 PM Page 699
700 Prosocial Development
values, sympathetic emotion, or other factorsinflu-
ence the individuals relative hierarchy of goals in the
particular situation. Often goals, needs, or values con-
flict in a situation and must be prioritized. This order-
ing of personal goals undoubtedly varies across
individuals and across situations for a given person (see
Figure 11.1). In a situation in which important people
are present, social approval needs may be salient (par-
ticularly for people who value such approval). In an-
other situation in which there are material costs for
assisting, valuing of the object to be shared or donated
will be particularly relevant for some people ( but not
others who do not value the commodity). Moreover, if
the situation evokes an emotional reaction such as sym-
pathy or personal distress, then other- or self-related
goals linked to those emotional reactions will be salient
and perhaps activated.
The values, goals, and needs that underlie personal
goals and their relative importance (in general and in
specific contexts) change with age (e.g., Bar-Tal, Raviv,
et al., 1980). An individuals values, goals, and needs,
as expressed in his or her prosocial moral reasoning,
provide some insight into the childs typical hierarchy of
goals, needs, and values (i.e., ones general hierarchy
rather than ones hierarchy in a specific context), al-
though, as noted, different factors will be particularly
salient in different situations (see Eisenberg, 1986). Be-
cause other-oriented values based in part on perspective
taking, sympathetic reactions, or the capacity for ab-
stract principles increase with age (Eisenberg, 1986),
one would expect prosocial moral goals to rank higher
in the hierarchies of older children than in those of
young children.
Thus, the hierarchy of an individuals goals or priori-
ties in the particular situation is viewed as determining
whether the child wants to assist, as well as the intention
to assist. However, even if the child intends to perform a
prosocial behavior, he or she may not be able to do so
due to the lack of relevant personal competencies (phys-
ical, psychological, or material) needed to intervene or
provide appropriate helping skills. In addition, the situa-
tion may change, as might the potential benefactors sit-
uation, prior to the actual helping opportunity. For
example, the potential benefactor may receive help from
someone else before the child can assist.
Finally, there are consequences of engaging in proso-
cial behavior or choosing not to do so. Children who help
may develop new helping competencies or sociocogni-
tive skills that can be applied in future situations. Assist-
ing another also may affect socializers efforts to pro-
mote the childs prosocial behavior and the degree to
which an individual develops a prosocial self-concept
(e.g., Eisenberg, Cialdini, et al., 1987). These conse-
quences are reflected in the future in terms of the childs
ongoing dispositional or person variables (see Figure
11.1), as well as in the range of the childs prosocial-rel-
evant personal competencies. Thus, there is a cycle by
which childrens prosocial behavior (or the lack thereof )
has consequences for future prosocial responding.
As is evident in this review, there is considerable re-
search on antecedents and correlates of childrens
prosocial responding. This work has provided a rudi-
mentary understanding of the factors that may foster
prosocial action, although in many cases, it is premature
to confidently assume causation. Many of the deficien-
cies in the research on prosocial development noted in
1998 still exist. Although there is more research on
some topics (e.g., volunteering, personality/person cor-
relates), the field would benefit from new emphases in
methods, conceptual frameworks, and empirical foci.
Methodological Issues
In this chapter, we have discussed a few of the mediators
and moderators of the bivariate relations associated
with the development of prosocial behavior obtained in
the empirical literature. There is initial evidence that
regulation mediates the relation between parental ex-
pression of negative emotion and childrens sympathy
(Eisenberg, Liew, & Pidada, 2001) and that sympathy
and prosocial moral reasoning mediate the relation of
perspective taking to prosocial behavior (Eisenberg,
Zhou, & Koller, 2001). A greater focus on mediation
would enhance our understanding of the processes re-
lated to prosocial development and behavior. Little is
known about factors that mediate the relations of
parental inductions or assignment of responsibilities to
children and their prosocial behavior or empathy-related
responding. Consistent with Hoffmans (2000) thinking,
inductions may affect perspective taking and empathy,
which then foster prosocial action. Additionally, certain
types of interactions with peers or teachers may pro-
mote childrens understanding of others emotions and
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Challenges and Future Directions 701
mental states in a manner that in turn fosters sympathy.
Sympathy may act as a mediator of the relation of many
environmental influences or genetic predispositions
(e.g., regulation) to childrens prosocial behavior. Exam-
ination of such mediational processes requires that in-
vestigators refine their conceptual explanations and go
beyond looking at global associations to focus on pro-
cess-oriented explanations.
In contrast, a focus on moderation forces investiga-
tors to think about the ways in which predictors of
prosocial responding interact in their potential influ-
ence. The strength of many predictors of prosocial re-
sponding (e.g., perspective taking or parental use of
inductions) likely varies based on factors such as sex,
age, general parenting style, cultural experiences, per-
sonality predispositions, or childrens susceptibility to
experience empathy or sympathy. We live in a multivari-
ate world, and behavior is, in general, and in regard to
prosocial behavior in specific situations, determined by
numerous additive and interacting factors. For example,
as mentioned, Knight et al. (1994) found that children
who donated to needy children were not only high in
perspective taking, but also high in sympathy and under-
stood the commodity to be donated (money; also see
Eisenberg, Zhou, & Koller, 2001, who found that sympa-
thy and perspective taking jointly predicted prosocial
moral reasoning). As noted, parental expression of emo-
tion and childrens regulation also interact when pre-
dicting childrens empathy-related responding (Valiente
et al., 2004). Based on the work of Kochanska (1995),
who found that childrens temperament moderated the
relations between maternal gentle discipline and mea-
sures of conscience, it is likely that temperament affects
the relations of parental practices to childrens prosocial
tendencies. In addition, it is important to go beyond
moderational models to examine the ways in which con-
figurations of numerous variables (e.g., child-rearing
practices) predict prosocial outcomes.
Most of the research on prosocial development con-
tinues to be correlational. To better examine issues of
causality, longitudinal designs and structural equation
modeling can be used to test causal hypotheses (al-
though structural modeling can only assess if a causal
sequence is consistent with the data and does not prove
causality). Longitudinal data are especially important
for testing mediated relations; concurrent data provide a
weak test of causal, mediated relations. Further, experi-
mental research designs could be used more frequently
to test causal assumptions. Although experimental de-
signs usually ( but need not) require relatively artificial
laboratory situations, researchers have tended to shy
away from experiments in the past decade or two. Yet
experiments, especially those performed in more natu-
ral settings (e.g., at school), can be valuable in testing
ideas about causality. Interventions and prevention pro-
grams provide a rigorous test of causal relations.
A multimethod approach in the design of studies also
is necessary because different methods address some-
what different questions, including questions about
causality. Moreover, all methods of measurement have
limitations, but these differ for different measures.
Thus, the convergence of findings across methods in-
creases ones confidence in the veracity of the findings.
In addition, as illustrated by the results of the Eisenberg
and Fabes (1998) meta-analyses, certain types of
method tend to be used with certain ages of children,
and this may undermine our ability to understand the
development of prosocial behavior.
Conceptual and Content-Related Directions
The study of prosocial behavior would benefit from
greater integration with conceptual work on related is-
sues. Prosocial behavior can be considered in a manner
similar to most interpersonal behaviorsin terms of its
social appropriateness and social and personal outcomes
both in specific situations and in the long term. In many,
but not all, settings, prosocial behavior is a socially ap-
propriate behavior; indeed, prosocial behaviors fre-
quently are used in measures of social competence.
Thus, conceptual work on social competence and the de-
velopment of interpersonal competence in attachment
and peer relationships is relevant to the understanding of
prosocial development. Moreover, research on moral
emotions such as guilt, moral cognitions, and the devel-
opment of an egoistic or antisocial orientation could be
used to a greater degree than in the past to informour un-
derstanding of prosocial behavior, particularly altruism.
As an example, we have seen that individual differ-
ences in childrens emotionality and their ability to reg-
ulate emotional arousal appear to be related to whether
children experience sympathy or egoistic, personal dis-
tress in helping contexts. Moreover, enactment of proso-
cial behaviors often involves not only emotional
regulation, but also behavioral regulation, particularly if
prosocial action requires self-denial. Thus, developmen-
tal change and individual differences in childrens abili-
ties to inhibit their behavior, delay gratification, and
dam3_c11.qxd 1/13/06 3:02 PM Page 701
702 Prosocial Development
activate behavior when desirable are of considerable im-
portance to understanding prosocial development. Envi-
ronmental factors associated with optimal regulation
and moderate levels of emotional reactivity likely foster
prosocial responding, including sympathy. Thus, the
growing bodies of literature on the socialization of emo-
tion and coping, as well as cultural influences on emo-
tion and its regulation, are highly relevant to a
comprehensive perspective on prosocial development. A
better understanding of these issues may be especially
useful in delineating the emergence of sympathy and
prosocial tendencies in the first years of life when chil-
drens regulatory skills are changing rapidly.
Work on prosocial behavior too often has been iso-
lated from work on related topics, and greater integra-
tion across content domains would have broad benefits.
This situation has improved somewhat in the past
decade, especially in the literature on peer relationships
and social competence. We have tried to make further
inroads in that direction in this chapter, although our at-
tempts were limited by the need to cover much material
in a restricted space. Moreover, prosocial behaviors can
be characterized as attractors (absorbing states that
pull the behavior of the system from other potential
states) that affect the organization of individual and
group behaviors (Martin, Fabes, Hanish, & Hollensetin,
in press). As such, integration of concepts from dynamic
systems may lead to new insights in research and theo-
rizing about prosocial behavior and development.
Advances in some fields of the behavioral sciences
are just beginning to provide methods and data that can
inform our understanding of prosocial development. De-
velopments in brain-scanning procedures are providing
new venues for studying emotion, attention, and deci-
sion making and, hence, processes related to sympathy
and prosocial behavior. This technology may provide
new insights on the role of emotion and attentional
processes in prosocial decision making, although it is
unlikely to provide in-depth information relevant to the
role of antecedent biological and environmental influ-
ences on prosocial development.
Finally, not only has the field of prosocial behavior
been relatively intellectually isolated fromrelevant liter-
ature on other topics, but investigators studying other is-
sues (e.g., psychopathology, information processing,
peer relationships, academic success) also have not at-
tended sufficiently to findings in the domain of prosocial
development. The broader field of developmental sci-
ences would benefit if the boundaries among content
areas, as well as across disciplines, were more permeable.
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