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Curr Opin Psychol. 2018 Apr;20:87-91. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.08.011. Epub 2017 Aug 12.

How do social norms influence prosocial development?

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Arizona State University, Institute for Human Origins, 951 Cady Mall, Tempe, AZ 85281, USA. Electronic address:


Humans are both highly prosocial and extremely sensitive to social norms, and some theories suggest that norms are necessary to account for uniquely human forms of prosocial behavior and cooperation. Understanding how norms influence prosocial behavior is thus essential if we are to describe the psychology and development of prosocial behavior. In this article I review recent research from across the social sciences that provides (1) a theoretical model of how norms influence prosocial behavior, (2) empirical support for the model based on studies with adults and children, and (3) predictions about the psychological mechanisms through which norms shape prosocial behavior. I conclude by discussing the need for future studies into how prosocial behavior develops through emerging interactions between culturally varying norms, social cognition, emotions, and potentially genes.

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