Thursday, July 16th, 2009...1:08 pm

defining prosocial behavior

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At our trainer reflection retreat in March, the evaluation materials for Peaceable Stories raised questions about the meaning of the term “prosocial behavior.” An article in the newest issue of Young Children has this to say:

Many classic definitions of prosocial behavior are similar to Eisenberg’s [The Caring Child, Harvard 1992], who describes it as ‘voluntary behavior intended to benefit another, such as helping, sharing, and comforting’ (p. 3). Some scholars stumble over the word intended when it concerns infants and toddlers, saying babies are incapable of being prosocial because even if they do something socially positive, it is unlikely to be altruistic (that is, deliberately selfless). The behaviors of the babies in high-quality classrooms—friendship, sharing, caring, rule following,. helpfulness, cooperation, and many others—may or may not satisfy the test for being truly altruistic, but they were certainly pro- rather than antisocial. Antisocial behavior involves showing disregard for others or being uncooperative or disagreeable. People who are antisocial are potentially destructive to themselves or the community.

We offer a different definition of prosocial behaviors, one that avoids notions of intention or motivation. We define prosocial behaviors for babies in a group setting as the communications and behaviors on the part of a baby that help create a positive emotional climate in the group and that involve reaching out—positive, discernable, outward social expression on the part of one baby toward one or more other inviduals, whether infant or adult.

–from “Learning to Be Me While Coming to Understand We: Encouraging Prosocial Babies in Group Settings” by Maria McMullen et al. (Young Children 64.4, July 2009, pp. 22-28)

What do you think of this definition? Does it clarify anything for you? (The full article is available online, at least for now, if you want to see the quote in context.)

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