Gender Differences in Prosocial Behaviour in Children Aged 2-6 Years

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Prosocial behaviour encompasses voluntary helping acts that the society values, with the intention of promoting harmonious relations and benefiting another as opposed to oneself (Vaughan & Hogg, 2005). The arousal: cost-reward model and its role in prosocial motivation proposes that a bystander's arousal is attributed to another person's distress, which they emotionally experience as unpleasant and are therefore motivated to relieve it (Dovidio, 1996). Eisenberg and Fabes (1991) contribute to the empirically supported hypothesis that affective reactions can appear in the early developmental stages and are universal that empathic arousal may be biologically inherited. “People will help others who have helped them and who are dependent on them”. Perceptions of reciprocity, equity and social justice shape the social responsibility norm, also involved in prosocial motivation (Vaughan & Hogg, 2005). Analysed using a cost-benefit model, altruism (a subtype of prosocial behaviour) is typically defined as the act of helping that benefits the recipient more than the performer (Dovidio, 1996). A number of studies concerning social relationships between toddlers have obtained evidence for the early emergence of prosocial behaviour. The studies describe acts such as sharing, cooperation and reactions to the distress of parents, other adults, siblings and peers (Bridgeman, 1983; Hay, Castle & Jewett, as cited in Rutter & Hay, 1994; Hay & Rheingold, 1983, as cited in Bridgeman, 1983; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, Wagner, & Chapman, 1992). Borke (1971) also suggests that children under the age of 7 can exhibit empathic behaviour. A common form of early prosocial behaviour is the tendency to offer objects to another individual. First apparent at approximately 8 months of age, it remains common throughout the following year (Hay & Rheingold, 1983). According to Sigman, Mundy and Kasari (1993), early sharing is so common that its absence in behaviour could be an indicator of autism. The display of prosocial behaviour in young children is argued to be an effect of the development of theory of mind and their relationship has been investigated (Hughes, White, Sharpen & Dunn, 2000; Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Slomkowski & Dunn, 1996). Other factors also influence and promote prosocial behaviour in young children, some of which include attachment, parenting style and cognitive development. In children, attachment is evident when they strongly seek proximity or contact with a specific individual, often the parent, when feeling anxious or stressed (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1975). Theories have acknowledged the relevance of affective bonds between children and their caregivers to the development of prosocial behaviour (van IJzendoorn, 1997). Rawls (1971) suggests that a lack of empathic capacity signifies little attachment with parents or caregivers. Alternatively, parents who respond appropriately to the distress of their children encourage a warm, secure attachment while modeling the importance of empathic behaviour in reciprocally satisfying social relationships in their children (van IJzendoorn, 1997). Consequently, secure children may be less inclined to engage in anti-social behaviour; they may be better equipped to regulate negative emotions about another person's pain. Attempts might then be made to relieve the individual's distress, rather than becoming overwhelmed by it (Hoffman, 1984, in Gewirtz & Kurtines, 1984). Parenting style, as introduced, influences the display of prosocial behaviour in young children and has been of paramount interest to developmental psychologists for years (Maccoby & Martin, 1983, as cited in Mussen & Hetherington, 1983). Cognitive development and information-processing skills have also been linked to prosocial capacity in young children (Quiggle, Garber, Panak & Dodge, 1992). In a study conducted by Rosser (1982), preschool children are predicted to be behave in an egocentric orientation....
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