Do children inherently want to help others?

November 22, 2016
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Prosocial behavior is often defined in developmental science research as "voluntary behavior intended to benefit another." This can include behaviors like helping, sharing, comforting, or volunteering. Developmental scientists have discovered that although some forms of prosocial behavior emerge early in childhood, different prosocial behaviors involve cognitive, social, and regulatory processes that mature at varying rates. A new special section of the journal Child Development, "The Motivational Foundations of Prosocial Behavior: A Developmental Perspective," extends this discussion to encourage researchers to explore how human beings' differing motivations can lead to variation in prosocial behavior and its development. Of many possible motivations, the Special Section highlights several, notably "empathy for a distressed other; concern about another's goal; desire to act in accordance with norms; and guilt."

The special section is a collection of ten empirical articles and one theoretical article focusing on the predictors, outcomes, and mechanisms related to the different motivations for prosocial actions. The collection of articles focuses on children's development broadly but begins with an introduction by Maayan Davidov and colleagues answering the question, "Why have humans evolved to act prosocially?" The special section also includes physiological studies, looking at the biological processes at play in prosocial action. A study by Miller and colleagues found, for example, that children's cardiac patterns, particularly the functioning of a specific nerve connecting the brain to the heart, predicted their empathy and kindness in response to another person's sadness.

Additional articles in the special section that may be of particular interest include:

  • "Children's Sharing Behavior in Mini-Dictator Games: The Role of In-Group Favoritism"
  • "Children's Sympathy, Guilt, and Moral Reasoning in Helping, Cooperation, and Sharing: A 6-Year Long Longitudinal Study"
  • "Young Children Want to See Others Get the Help They Need"

Journalists interested in speaking with any of the editors of the special section listed above or gaining access to the complete special section of Child Development should contact Hannah Klein.

SRCD was established in 1933 by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The Society's goals are to advance interdisciplinary research in and to encourage applications of research findings. Its membership of more than 5,700 scientists is representative of the various disciplines and professions that contribute to knowledge of child development.

Explore further: Developmental science research sheds new light on the origins of discrimination, social exclusion

More information: Maayan Davidov et al, The Motivational Foundations of Prosocial Behavior From A Developmental Perspective-Evolutionary Roots and Key Psychological Mechanisms: Introduction to the Special Section, Child Development (2016). DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12639

Related Stories

Developmental science research sheds new light on the origins of discrimination, social exclusion

October 19, 2016
Experiencing prejudice and discrimination in childhood can have long term consequences, including depression, poor academic performance and negative health outcomes.

Parents' views on justice affect babies' moral development

September 1, 2015
Babies' neural responses to morally charged scenarios are influenced by their parents' attitudes toward justice, new research from the University of Chicago shows.

Latino teens who care for others reap academic benefits

October 12, 2016
According to the Pew Research Center, Latino teens remain at high risk for poor academic outcomes. They drop out of high school at higher rates of compared to blacks, whites and Asians and they lag other groups in obtaining ...

Relationship between sympathy, helping others could provide clues to development of altruism

September 29, 2015
Developmental psychologists long have debated whether individuals volunteer and help others because they are sympathetic or whether they are sympathetic because they are prosocial. Now, new research from the University of ...

The developmental origins of cultural learning

May 26, 2016
A new special section of the journal Child Development features studies that explore the ways children learn about their cultures, examining the strategies through which children begin to understand and adopt the practices, ...

What makes kids generous? Neuroscience has some answers

December 18, 2014
University of Chicago developmental neuroscientists have found specific brain markers that predict generosity in children. Those neural markers appear to be linked to both social and moral evaluation processes.

Recommended for you

Like adults, children show bias in attributing mental states to others

August 22, 2017
Young children are more likely to attribute mental states to characters that belong to the same group as them relative to characters that belong to an outside group, according to findings published in Psychological Science, ...

High moral reasoning associated with increased activity in the human brain's reward system

August 22, 2017
Individuals who have a high level of moral reasoning show increased activity in the brain's frontostriatal reward system, both during periods of rest and while performing a sequential risk taking and decision making task ...

Wealth disparity and family income impact the brain development of female youth

August 22, 2017
Female teenagers living in neighbourhoods with wide salary gaps and a low-income household show changes to their brain maturation that could indicate a higher risk of developing mental illness in adulthood, suggests a recently ...

Yoga and meditation improve mind-body health and stress resilience

August 22, 2017
Many people report positive health effects from practicing yoga and meditation, and experience both mental and physical benefits from these practices. However, we still have much to learn about how exactly these practices ...

Brain's self-regulation in teens at risk for obesity

August 22, 2017
In a small study that scanned the brains of teenagers while exposing them to tempting "food cues," researchers report that reduced activity in the brain's "self-regulation" system may be an important early predictor of adult ...

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.