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Emotion. 2018 Jun;18(4):518-527. doi: 10.1037/emo0000332. Epub 2017 Jun 5.

Helping yourself helps others: Linking children's emotion regulation to prosocial behavior through sympathy and trust.

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Department of Psychology, University of Toronto.


Although emotionally well-regulated children are more likely to behave prosocially, the psychological processes that connect their emotion regulation abilities and prosocial behavior are less clear. We tested if other-oriented sympathy and trust mediated the links between emotion regulation capacities (i.e., resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA], negative emotional intensity, and sadness regulation) and prosocial behavior in an ethnically diverse sample of 4- and 8-year-olds (N = 131; 49% girls). Resting RSA was calculated from children's electrocardiogram data in response to a nondescript video. Sympathy was child and caregiver reported, whereas negative emotional intensity, sadness regulation, trust, and prosocial behavior were caregiver reported. Regardless of age, higher resting RSA was linked to higher sympathy, which was associated with higher prosocial behavior. The positive link between sadness regulation and prosocial behavior was mediated by higher sympathy and trust. Children's other-oriented psychological processes may play important roles in translating certain emotion regulation capacities into prosocial behavior. (PsycINFO Database Record.


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