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Title: Conditional prosociality in development: deconstructing social and materialistic factors that modulate early prosocial behavior
Authors: Lee, Kristy Jia Jin
Keywords: Social sciences::Psychology::Experimental psychology
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Nanyang Technological University
Source: Lee, K. J. J. (2022). Conditional prosociality in development: deconstructing social and materialistic factors that modulate early prosocial behavior. Doctoral thesis, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Abstract: The past decade of developmental research has illuminated a fascinatingly diverse range of prosocial behavior in young children. From an early age, children readily offer a helping hand to people in need, provide comfort to emotionally distressed individuals, share resources with the needy, and punish transgressions that impinge on the welfare of others. Yet as we marvel at these precocious displays of virtue, it is imperative to recognize the constraints on early prosociality, specifically that (i) self-interested concerns often underlie prosocial behavior and (ii) opposing considerations about self-interest may sometimes outcompete prosocial tendencies. The present thesis contends that young children, while demonstrating prosocial inclinations, are nevertheless influenced by the perceived costliness of their behavior. Study 1 examined the moral policing behavior of five- and six-year-olds in Singapore (N = 80). Children witnessed one of two scenarios enacted by female adults. In the Transgression condition, the transgressor broke a clock and falsely accused the non-transgressor of the misdeed; in the Control condition, the clock broke through no fault of the actresses. Children reported the transgressor's misbehavior (thereby absolving the non-transgressor of misplaced blame), distributed resources more favorably to the non-transgressor, evaluated the transgressor less positively on moral goodness, and displayed a social preference for the non-transgressor. By contrast, given that the control scenario was not morally laden, children's attitudes and behavior toward the actresses showed a lack of systematic differences. These results suggest that children would redress third-party injustice despite the risk of antagonizing an adult transgressor and no foreseeable benefit to themselves for doing so. Study 2 investigated the effects of agent type on the moral policing behavior of five- and six-year-olds in Singapore (N = 120). Children witnessed the same moral scenario as Study 1, except that the transgression was enacted by either female adults (Humans condition) or puppets (Puppets condition). The study found that children reported the puppet transgressor's misbehavior and distributed undesirable resources to the puppet transgressor more readily than the human transgressor. These differences were thought to stem from a lower social cost (i.e., lower potential for negative reciprocity) of punishing the puppet transgressor, in terms of less retaliatory threat associated with puppets than with unfamiliar adults, thus magnifying children's decisions to sanction third-party injustice. On the other hand, children's negative evaluations of the transgressor and positive evaluations of the non-transgressor, as well as a social preference for the non-transgressor, did not vary across agent types. Therefore, differences in children's behavioral responses toward puppet and human transgressors could not be attributed to different perceptions of culpability or liking. Study 3 examined the effects of cost and familiarity on the helping and sharing behavior of five- and six-year-olds in Singapore (N = 120). Cost was operationalized as the time and effort expended on providing help to the victim of a moral transgression, that could otherwise have been used to earn a reward from a productive task. Familiarity varied as a function of whether there was prior contact between the child and victim. Children witnessed the transgressor destroy the victim's tower of blocks, responded to the victim's pleas for help in rebuilding her tower, and shared resources with both actresses. Helping rate was found to exceed chance only under the least prohibitive condition (Low-Cost, Familiar Victim), stemming from a combination of not having a productive task to occupy one's time and energy, and simultaneously a familiar target which increases one's intrinsic motivation to help. In terms of resource sharing, children behaved less selfishly toward the victim than the transgressor, but remained selfish by and large as they were not more likely than chance to share their resources with either actress. These results point to children's strategic considerations about tradeoffs when deciding whether to benefit the victim of a transgression. Taken together, our findings shed light on altruistic and self-interested motivations in early prosocial behavior.
DOI: 10.32657/10356/156813
Schools: School of Social Sciences 
Rights: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).
Fulltext Permission: open
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
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