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Dev Psychol. 2010 Jul;46(4):905-14. doi: 10.1037/a0019718.

Cognitive and social influences on early prosocial behavior in two sociocultural contexts.

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  • 1Faculty of Human Sciences, Culture, Learning and Development, 49069 Osnabrück, Germany.


In this cross-cultural study, we tested 2 main hypotheses: first, that an early self-concept along with self-other differentiation is a universal precursor of prosocial behavior in 19-month-olds, and second, that the importance attached to relational socialization goals (SGs) concerning interpersonal responsiveness (obedience, prosocial behavior) is related to toddlers' prosocial behavior. Contrary to these predictions, the results show that mirror self-recognition, as an indicator of early self-concept, was correlated with toddlers' prosociality only in the Berlin sample (N = 38) and not in the Delhi sample (N = 39). As expected, however, Delhi mothers emphasized relational SGs more strongly than did Berlin mothers. There were no cross-cultural differences in toddlers' prosociality. On an individual level, mothers' emphasis on relational SGs (obedience) was a significant predictor of toddlers' prosocial behavior. On the basis of these results, we propose that situational helping behavior based on shared intentional relations provides an alternative developmental pathway for understanding toddlers' prosocial behavior. This view differs from the often-cited view that anticipating other people as autonomous intentional agents with their own psychological states gives rise to prosocial behavior in toddlers.

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