By Ariel Knafo | Michelle Weiner | Irit Dubrovsky
Updated on Dec 23, 2009
CONTEXTUAL AND INDIVIDUAL INFLUENCES
RELATION TO OTHER ASPECTS OF SCHOOL FUNCTIONING
HOW TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS CAN PROMOTE PROSOCIAL BEHAVIOR
Prosocial behaviors are voluntary behaviors made with the intention of benefiting others (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). This definition carefully circumvents the potential benefits to the person performing the prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior is often accompanied with psychological and social rewards for its performer. In the long run, individuals can benefit from living in a society where prosociality is common (which, in evolutionary terms, increases reproductive potential). It has therefore been difficult for researchers to identify purely altruistic behaviors, benefiting only the recipient and not the performer. Nevertheless, behaviors benefiting others, but whose main goal is self-advantageous (e.g. cooperative behaviors intended to obtain a common resource), typically are not considered prosocial. Typical examples include: volunteering; sharing toys, treats, or food with friends; instrumental help (e.g., helping a peer with school assignments); costly help (e.g. risking one's own life to save others); and emotionally supporting others in distress (e.g., comforting a peer following a disappointing experience or caring for a person who is ill). DEVELOPMENTAL CHANGES
Prosocial behavior has roots in human evolutionary history as de Waal's comparison with other species shows. Nevertheless, Fehr and Fischbacher note that humans are unique in their degree of prosociality. Hoffman's theory proposes that prosocial behavior becomes increasingly other-oriented as children mature. Infants feel self-distress in reaction to the distress of others because they are incapable of differentiating their own experiences from those of others. Gradually, self-distress is replaced by other-oriented concern, requiring some understanding of others' mental states (Hoffman, 2000). Zahn-Waxler, Robinson, and Emde show that by age 4, many children can react empathically to others, including offering help to those in distress. The 1998 Eisenberg and Fabes meta-analysis found that prosocial behavior increases with age, although increases varied in size, depending on the methodological aspects of each study. In one study by Benenson, Pascoe, and Radmore, about 60 percent of 4-year old children donated at least one of 10 stickers they received to a peer, and about 85 percent did so at age 9. This increase was markedly elevated for higher-SES children compared to lower-SES children. From childhood to adolescence further increases are found in sharing, but not in helping or providing emotional support (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). The boost in prosocial behavior with age is attributed to developmental increases in cognitive abilities associated with detecting others' needs and determining ways to help, in empathy-related responding, and in the moral understanding of the importance of helping others (Eisenberg et al., 2006). CONTEXTUAL AND INDIVIDUAL INFLUENCES
Many contextual factors are associated with prosocial behavior. For example, Cole and colleagues report short-term success for television programs designed to increase children's prosociality. Social psychological experiments consistently show that recognizing a situation as requiring assistance, involving personal responsibility, and enabling oneself to help, all increase helping behavior (Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder, 2005). Individuals are more likely to provide support in situations that promote personal psychological and material rewards, or where the costs (e.g., guilt) associated with not helping are prominent. Finally, individuals are more likely to behave prosocially towards similar or likable others (Penner et al., 2005), and towards others considered to be close, especially kin...
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