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Psychol Sci. 2010 Apr;21(4):523-7. doi: 10.1177/0956797610364119. Epub 2010 Mar 5.

Intention-mediated selective helping in infancy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


One way to maintain cooperation between unrelated individuals and decrease the chance of providing costly aid to those who will not reciprocate is by selectively helping on the basis of the content of previous interactions. In the present study, we sought to determine whether the earliest instances of human helping behavior show specificity. In three experiments, we found that infants preferred to help an individual who, in a previous interaction, intended to provide a toy over one who did not (Experiment 1) and that infants consider this positive intention even without a positive outcome (Experiment 2). Experiment 3 provided a more detailed examination of the basis of selection, suggesting that infants are not solely avoiding unwilling individuals, but also selectively helping those who have shown a willingness to provide. Taken together, these experiments indicate that early helping behaviors show characteristics of the rich reciprocal relationships observed in adult prosocial behavior.

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