Engaging in prosocial behaviors (acts that benefit others) is associated with many positive outcomes in children, including the development of positive peer relationships, academic achievement, and good psychological functioning. This study examines the social learning mechanisms toddlers use to acquire prosocial behaviors. This brief report presents a new experimental procedure in which 2-year-olds (28-32 months, N=30) saw a video of an adult performing a novel prosocial behavior in response to another person’s distress. The children then had the opportunity to imitate and implement the behaviors in response to their own parent’s physical distress. Children who saw the video were more likely to perform the novel action and to display non-demonstrated prosocial behaviors relative to a) children who did not view the video but saw a parent in distress and b) children who saw the video but witnessed their mother engage in a neutral activity. These results suggest that toddlers imitate and emulate prosocial behaviors for social interaction and that children can apply such behaviors in appropriate situations.
Williamson, R. A., Donohue, M. R., & Tully, E. C. (2013). Learning how to help others: Two-year-olds’ social learning of a prosocial act. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 114(4), 543-550. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.11.004