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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2014 Oct;55(10):1135-44. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12235. Epub 2014 Apr 25.

Developmental association of prosocial behaviour with aggression, anxiety and depression from infancy to preadolescence.

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Psychology Department, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada; INSERM U669, INSERM, Paris, France; Université Paris-Sud and Université Paris Descartes, UMR-S0669, Paris, France.



Research on associations between children's prosocial behaviour and mental health has provided mixed evidence. The present study sought to describe and predict the joint development of prosocial behaviour with externalizing and internalizing problems (physical aggression, anxiety and depression) from 2 to 11 years of age.


Data were drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY). Biennial prosocial behaviour, physical aggression, anxiety and depression maternal ratings were sought for 10,700 children aged 0 to 9 years at the first assessment point.


While a negative association was observed between prosociality and physical aggression, more complex associations emerged with internalizing problems. Being a boy decreased the likelihood of membership in the high prosocial trajectory. Maternal depression increased the likelihood of moderate aggression, but also of joint high prosociality/low aggression. Low family income predicted the joint development of high prosociality with high physical aggression and high depression.


Individual differences exist in the association of prosocial behaviour with mental health. While high prosociality tends to co-occur with low levels of mental health problems, high prosociality and internalizing/externalizing problems can co-occur in subgroups of children. Child, mother and family characteristics are predictive of individual differences in prosocial behaviour and mental health development. Mechanisms underlying these associations warrant future investigations.


Prosociality; aggression; anxiety; depression; development

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