Prosocial and Altruistic Behavior

Prosocial and Altruistic Behavior

Altruism is the unselfish concern for the well-being of others, while prosocial behavior has more practical and/or egoistic motivations for promoting others’ well-being (Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006). Prosocial behavior begins in infancy as babies become distressed in response to others’ distress. Young children learn to share their toys, comfort others and offer assistance.

As children grow older, they show more prosocial behaviors. Cognitive maturity is associated with prosocial behavior as children develop the capacity to accurately identify and respond to people’s cues (Zahn-Waxler, Schiro, Robinson, Emde & Schmitz, 2001). As children develop, they may require less reciprocation or reward for their prosocial behaviors, at which point altruism emerges.

Determinants of Prosocial Behavior


· Gender Differences in Prosocial Expectations

Eisenberg et al. (2006) found that gender stereotyping results in pronounced differences in the prosocial behaviors children display. Parents generally expect girls to be more prosocial and polite than boys, by expressing helping behaviors such as comforting, sharing, and empathy.


Aggression is the intention to cause harm to others. We began the lesson by asking why some children bully others. While young children may display instrumental aggression when they fight and squabble over toys, older children display more hostile aggression, which is personal and involves ridiculing, attacking, criticizing or tattle-taling (Dodge, Coie, & Lynam, 2006).

The ability to infer another’s intents and motives enables children to recognize when someone wants to harm them. However, not all children have the ability to accurately infer this intent. Aggressive children have less ability to accurately infer intent, and retaliate to attacks by perceived tormentors. Aggressive children are attacked more often than nonaggressive children, and see the world as hostile and threatening (Dodge & Frame, 1982).



Ideally, aging means that individuals learn to resolve conflict in more constructive ways. However, older children and adults may revert to verbal aggression because as children age, physical aggression is less acceptable. Interestingly, high childhood aggression is highly correlated with criminal convictions later in life, and playground fist fights may evolve into vandalism, criminal activity and homicide. In fact, aggressive children were found in later life to have been arrested more for drunk driving and spousal abuse, had more unstable careers and relationships, and had more problems in parenting (Bushman & Huesmann, 2001; Caspi, Elder, & Bem, 1987; Huesmann, Eron, Lefkowitz, & Walder, 1984; Kokko & Pulkkinen, 2000).
Males are more physically aggressive, whereas females are more relationally aggressive.


The Determinants of Aggression


· Biological Factors

Individuals may be biologically predisposed to aggression. Studies have determined that identical twins showed more similar aggressive behavior that fraternal twins (Dionne, Tremblay, Boivin, Laplante, & Perusse, 2003; Rhee & Waldmann, 2002). Hormones also play a role in aggression, and violent offenders have been found to have higher testosterone levels than other offenders (Brooks & Reddon, 1996). Even when environmental factors like child-rearing practices were controlled, testosterone levels were linked to aggression in girls and boys (Tremblay et al., 1998).

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, was found to be negatively related to aggression levels in violent criminals, but most of these criminals came from conflict-ridden homes, thus showing the relationship between biological and environmental factors (Herbert & Martinez, 2001; Moffit & Caspi, 2006).

Controlling Aggression

It is a myth that aggression builds up and can be released by acts of violence. Even therapy groups may suggest punching a pillow. However, research indicates that rather than reducing aggression, these acts exacerbate it (Mallick & McCandless, 1996). The social information-processing approach suggests another perspective on how to relieve aggression. Dodge et al. (2006) argue that people become aggressive because they are socially unskilled and cannot solve problems effectively.

Hudley and Graham (1993) for instance found that teaching aggressive children how to solve interpersonal problems led to a decrease in their violent behaviors. Other studies have found that showing empathy to aggressive children has similar positive results (Laible et al., 2000; Strayer & Roberts, 2004). The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group (2004) provided interpersonal training for aggressive children and their parents, which resulted in significant social, emotional and academic improvements and less aggression.

Knowledge Check


Question 1

Please select the correct statement.


Females   engage more in reactive aggression while males engage more in physical   aggression.


Since   certain studies found that identical twins have more similar prosocial and   aggressive behaviors than fraternal twins, we can deduct that   behavior is genetically determined.


Prosocial   behavior is altruism.


Aggression   can be reduced by teaching children, parents and families interpersonal   skills.

I don’t know

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