Effects of coordination and gender on prosocial behavior in 4-year-old Chinese children

  • Yingjia Wan
  • Hong FuEmail author
  • Michael K. Tanenhaus
Brief Report


In a block-assembly task with 138, 4-year-old Chinese kindergarten children, tested in pairs, we manipulated whether fine-grained coordination was required for accomplishing a shared goal with the same end product: building two adjoined towers with alternating levels of orange and green colored blocks to match a depicted model. In the coordination condition, each child had blocks of only one color and built the towers together. In the shared-goal-only condition, each child had both color blocks and built one of the towers, which they then adjoined. We predicted that children in the coordination condition would be more prosocial than children in the shared-goal-only condition. Studies with Western children typically find that girls are more generous than boys. However, we predicted the opposite pattern because Chinese culture emphasizes the importance of generosity more for males than females. Children in the coordination condition were more willing to help their partner complete an unrelated task and were more generous in sharing stickers with unknown children in a dictator game. These results demonstrate that level of coordination affects prosociality above and beyond having a shared goal, and are the first demonstration that prosocial effects of a collaborative task with children generalize beyond the participants to anonymous strangers. Boys shared more stickers with unknown children than girls, suggesting that gender differences in generosity are, in part, culturally conditioned.


Joint action Collaboration Coordination Prosocial behavior Cultural effects on cognition Social cognition Social development 


Author note

This study is supported by the Graduate Student Training Fund of Nanjing Normal University.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

There is no conflict of interest in this paper.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyNanjing Normal UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.Department of Brain and Cognitive SciencesUniversity of RochesterRochesterUSA

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