Young children (sometimes) do the right thing even when their peers do not

Jan M. Engelmann, Esther Herrmann, Diotima J. Rapp, Michael Tomasello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children must sometimes decide between conforming to peer behavior and doing what is right. While research shows that children have a strong inclination to act prosocially and to help conspecifics in need, many studies also demonstrate that children tend to adopt peer behavior. In two studies (N = 96), we investigated whether children would conform to an antisocial majority or, whether they would do the right thing even under peer pressure. Results show that if a recipient is in need, 5-year-old children act prosocially in two different contexts even when there is a strong selfish incentive not to. However, once the severity of the recipient’s need is reduced, children conform to the antisocial group. The current studies suggest that children’s prosocial motivation sometimes wins out against more selfish drives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-92
JournalCognitive Development
Early online date18 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • Prosocial behavior
  • Peer pressure
  • Conformity
  • Need
  • Motivation

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