The Development of Prosocial Behavior

  • Carolyn Zahn-Waxler
  • K. Danielle Smith
Part of the Perspectives in Developmental Psychology book series (PDPS)


There have been energetic debates throughout time regarding the socio-moral nature of human interaction. Centuries ago, theologians and philosophers framed the issues in terms of stark contrasts (e.g., humans were born with the capacity for good or evil, and these qualities were either innate or learned). Depending upon one’s point of view, societal influences could be seen either as corrupting innocent youth or as a means by which aggressive instincts could be subdued over time to produce caring and compassion. Such unidimensional views gradually began to give way, with increased recognition of our multifaceted nature. Research in the last half century has significantly advanced knowledge about biological and environmental contributors to prosocial and antisocial behaviors. Here we review research on prosocial behavior, from a developmental perspective, emphasizing mainly work published in the last decade. By prosocial or altruistic behaviors we mean acts that include provision of comfort or sympathy, helping, sharing, cooperation, rescue, protection, and defense. We also review work on emotions and cognitions that often accompany, and are integral features of, prosocial behaviors. This includes children’s empathy or emotional incorporation of the others’ emotional experience, as well as their moral reasoning and cognitive comprehension of others’ internal states and needs (perspective taking, role taking).


Antisocial Behavior Prosocial Behavior Moral Reasoning Perspective Taking Empathic Concern 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn Zahn-Waxler
    • 1
  • K. Danielle Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Developmental PsychologyNational Institute of Mental HealthBethesdaUSA

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