Young children selectively avoid helping people with harmful intentions.


Journal Article

Two studies investigated whether young children are selectively prosocial toward others, based on the others' moral behaviors. In Study 1 (N = 54), 3-year-olds watched 1 adult (the actor) harming or helping another adult. Children subsequently helped the harmful actor less often than a third (previously neutral) adult, but helped the helpful and neutral adults equally often. In Study 2 (N = 36), 3-year-olds helped an actor who intended but failed to harm another adult less often than a neutral adult, but helped an accidentally harmful and a neutral adult equally often. Children's prosocial behavior was thus mediated by the intentions behind the actor's moral behavior, irrespective of outcome. Children thus selectively avoid helping those who cause--or even intend to cause--others harm.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Vaish, A; Carpenter, M; Tomasello, M

Published Date

  • November 2010

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 81 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1661 - 1669

PubMed ID

  • 21077854

Pubmed Central ID

  • 21077854

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1467-8624

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0009-3920

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01500.x


  • eng