The effects of reasoning and choice on children's prosocial behavior



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The present study examined techniques commonly used by socializing agents to encourage prosocial behavior. The effects of two factors were studied: the type of reasoning used (Adult-Oriented, Beneficiary-Oriented, No Reasoning), and whether or not the child had a choice in behaving prosocially. Forty-eight seven- and eight-year old children were randomly assigned to one of six conditions in a 3 X 2 (reasoning by choice) design, where they were persuaded to donate one of two prizes to sick children who could not be in the study, and then later were given the opportunity to help "other children who were having trouble in school," and/or to play with toys. Based on the parenting literature, it was predicted that children exposed to Beneficiary-Oriented Reasoning would be the most prosocial. The least amount of prosocial behavior was expected to occur in the conditions where no reasoning and no choice were offered, as predicted by psychological reactance theory. Contrary to expectations, children were significantly more prosocial when no reasoning was presented to them than in either the Adult- or Beneficiary-Oriented Reasoning conditions. As expected, children were more prosocial in the Choice than in the No Choice conditions. The implications of the findings, especially as they apply to the notion of reasoning as overjustification, or as a threat to behavioral freedom, will be discussed.



Social perception in children, Child psychology