Redefining Prosocial Behaviour: The Production of Helping, Sharing, and Comforting Acts in Human Infants and Toddlers

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Dunfield, Kristen
developmental psychology , social cognition , socioemotional development , prosocial behaviour
Prosocial behaviours are a diverse group of actions that are integral to human social life. In this dissertation I propose and test a three-factor model of prosocial behaviour. Specifically, in a series of four studies I examined the ability of infants and toddlers to engage in helping, sharing, and comforting behaviour. Additionally, I examine the consistency with which children produce these behaviours longitudinally over time and the associations between these three subtypes of prosocial behaviour and social cognitive perspective taking, effortful control, affective perspective taking, and temperament. In Study 1, I found that 18-month-old infants were able to engage in helping and sharing, but not comforting behaviour. In Study 2, I found that between 18 and 30 months, there was no individual consistency in the production of prosocial behaviours, either across types (helping, sharing) or times (18, 24, or 30 months). Moreover, I found that even at 30 months of age, young children were not recognizing and responding to the emotional needs of others. In Study 3, I examined the relation between helping and sharing and three measures of social cognitive perspective taking and general cognitive development. I found unique relations between the behavioural correlates and the measures of prosocial behaviour. Specifically, I found that sharing was associated with imitation and that helping was associated with general cognitive development. Finally, Study 4 demonstrated that helping was the most frequent prosocial behaviour that the children engaged in, and it did not increase over time. I also observed a significant developmental increase in comforting behaviour from 2 to 3 years. Additionally, I found low rates of sharing behaviour that were stable over time. Importantly, I observed consistency in the production of prosocial behaviour within each subtype and defined a three-factor structure that differentiated between the helping, sharing, and comforting tasks. Further, I observed a significant association between effortful control and comforting behaviour, but no other significant associations between any of the subtypes of prosocial behaviour and the behavioural correlates (effortful control, affective perspective taking, and temperament). The implications for the construct of prosocial behaviour and the presence of a “prosocial disposition” are discussed.
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