Variations of Altruistic Behavior from Childhood to Adulthood

Topics: Altruism, Reciprocal altruism, Social psychology Pages: 12 (4284 words) Published: October 4, 2013


Variations of Altruistic Behavior from Childhood to Adulthood

Variations of Altruistic Behavior from Childhood to Adulthood
Put into simple terms, a person who is altruistic is “motivated by the desire to improve another’s welfare” (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2011, p. 400). Using this definition, altruism occurs when one person is self-sacrificing wholly for another person’s benefit. There are times, however, when a person may be altruistic for their own personal gain. For example, someone may donate money to a charity because it makes them feel good. Recent studies show that altruism cannot be so easily defined. Altruism can vary in behaviors and among different cultures, genders, and ages. Some research has been conducted studying each of these factors. In 2001, Robert Levine et al. studied different countries around the world to measure levels of helpfulness among different cultures (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2011, p. 414). Alice H. Eagly’s and Maureen Crowley’s (1986) research focused on gender differences in altruism (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2011, p. 446). Although some research has been done studying certain age groups and altruism, not much research has focused on the difference between the age groups. The purpose of this literature review is to study the variations of altruistic behavior (if any) from childhood to adulthood through the use of recent empirical research. The following studies prove that age and other factors contribute to the amount of altruistic behavior performed by various age groups.

Prosocial Behavior in Toddlers
This article by Brownell, Nichols, and Svetlova (2010) examines the prosocial behaviors present in toddlers at 18 months and 30 months. These ages were selected based on conclusions from earlier research that suggest a leap in cognitive understanding of the needs of others occurs past 24 months of age. Past 24 months, instances of sharing and altruism, or sharing at some personal cost, are far more common among toddlers because of their increased ability to perceive the emotions of those around them.

Overall, 65 toddlers were studied. This group was evenly split by age with 32 at 18 months old and 33 at 30 months old. Male to female ratios were also relatively even with 15 males and 17 females at 18 months and 18 males and 15 females at 30 months. Each of the toddlers had a caregiver nearby with instructions to focus on an assigned task and not react to the actions of the toddlers during experimentation. Both the experimenters and their assistants were female and spent time with the children before the actual experimentation stage in order to both ensure that the toddlers were comfortable and that they understood how to perform the tasks they would be asked to help with.

The experiments themselves were designed to test the toddlers’ willingness and ability to help the experimenter in three conditions that were made up of three repeating tasks. Therefore, the three tasks were repeated three times with varying conditions for a total of nine tasks. The tasks to be completed were as follows: the need for a clip, the need for a wrap or blanket, and the need for a toy. The conditions in which these three tasks were completed were action, emotion, and altruism. Action conditions required the child’s help to complete an interrupted task that a given object could complete, emotion conditions required the child to recognize an emotional need of the experimenter that a given object could relieve, and altruistic conditions were identical to the emotional conditions except that the given item was a personal possession of the child. In each of the nine tests, the child was given 8 increasingly specific verbal cues that ended with an 8th cue that specifically requested the object.

The authors were testing the hypothesis that age is key in a child’s tendency for emotional awareness of others in social situations. The action conditions were designed to simulate instrumental...

References: Gummerum, M., Takezawa, M., & Keller, M. (2009). The influence of social category and reciprocity on adults’ and children’s altruistic behavior. Evolutionary Psychology, 7(2), 295-316. Retrieved from http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/ep07295316.pdf on 9/7/2013.
Harris, M. B., Liguori, R. A., & Stack, C. (1973). Favors, bribes, and altruism. The Journal of Social Psychology, 89(1), 47-54. doi: 10.1080/00224545.1973.9922566
Hoffman, M. L. (1975). Altruistic behavior and the parent-child relationship. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31(5), 937-943. doi: 10.1037/h0076825
Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. R. (2011). Social psychology. (8th ed.). Belmont, CA, Wadsworth: Cengage.
Keller, B. B., & Bell, R. Q. (1979). Child effects on adult 's method of eliciting altruistic behavior. Child Development, 50(4), 1004-1009. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1129326 .
Oesterle, S., Johnson, M. K., & Mortimer, J. T. (2004). Volunteerism during the transition to adulthood: A life course perspective. Social Forces, 82(3), 1123-1149.
Svetlova, M., Nichols, S. R., & Brownell, C. A. (2010). Toddlers prosocial behavior: From instrumental to empathic to altruistic helping. Child Development, 81(6), 1814-1827. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01512.x
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