Evidence for a developmental shift in the motivation underlying helping in early childhood

Robert Hepach, Jan M. Engelmann, Esther Herrmann, Stella Gerdemann, Michael Tomasello

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We investigated children's positive emotions as an indicator of their underlying prosocial motivation. In Study 1, 2- and 5-year-old children (N = 64) could either help an individual or watch as another person provided help. Following the helping event and using depth sensor imaging, we measured children's positive emotions through changes in postural elevation. For 2-year-olds, helping the individual and watching another person help was equally rewarding; 5-year-olds showed greater postural elevation after actively helping. In Study 2, 5-year-olds’ (N = 59) positive emotions following helping were greater when an audience was watching. Together, these results suggest that 2-year-old children have an intrinsic concern that individuals be helped whereas 5-year-old children have an additional, strategic motivation to improve their reputation by helping.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13253
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Science
Early online date9 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 13 Dec 2022


  • prosociality
  • motivation
  • early ontogeny
  • children
  • emotion
  • body posture
  • Kinect


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