Study Update – Prosocial Development preliminary findings

[By: Victoria Licht]

For almost a year now I have been working on a study looking at prosociality in infants, specifically the development and their degree of understanding within it. At a young age, 3 months old, infants already display a strong preference for prosocial individuals over antisocial ones (Hamlin et al., 2007; Hamlin & Wynn, 2011). In this study we are investigating the role of individual differences in promoting and shaping understanding of prosocial and antisocial events. We evaluated 5 to 6-month-old infants in their ability to discriminate and prefer prosocial over antisocial individuals using several different methods ERP/EEG, behavioral measures (looking times and manual choice task), and we investigated through questionnaires whether temperament (Rothbart, 1981) and attachment (Condon et al., 2008) styles would affect the emergence of this ability. In total 26 infants were tested and analyzed in the behavioral measures; 7 infants achieved the sufficient number of trails per condition to be included in the ERP analysis.

Infants watched about a 7 min video consisting of 4 short familiarization films and 60 short videos depicting a prosocial (a puppet helping another puppet to open a box) or antisocial acts (a puppet hindering another puppet from opening a box), at the end of which they were asked to manually choose between one of the two puppets presented in the videos.

On a neural level, we found that during the short films’ infants showed a significant differentiated between prosocial and antisocial scenes in the P400 component (an index of early social information processing). The Nc component (an index of attention), showed additionally a significant change in amplitude between the two conditions and specifically showed higher amplitude in the prosocial condition. Suggesting that infants are able to discriminate between the two presented events and paid more attention to the prosocial condition compared to antisocial condition.

While analyzing looking times and manual choice did not reveal any overall preference across infants. However, when individual differences were taken into consideration this revealed that longer looking times towards the prosocial individual were associated with temperament and attachment; particularly, longer attention to prosocial events were positively correlated with higher temperament scores, specifically with the trait effortful control which is related to self-regulation, as well as higher attachment scores. This suggests that earlier preference to prosocial individuals could be promoted both by biological (temperament) and external and affective (attachment) factors.

Overall, while our results are preliminary this study could shed new light on the factors characterizing prosocial development and the importance to observe individual differences in the early development of social cognition.



Condon, J. T., Corkindale, C. J., & Boyce, P. (2008). Assessment of postnatal paternal–infant attachment: development of a questionnaire instrument. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology26(3), 195-210.

Hamlin, J. K., Wynn, K., & Bloom, P. (2007). Social evaluation by preverbal infants. Nature450(7169), 557.

Hamlin, J. K., & Wynn, K. (2011). Young infants prefer prosocial to antisocial others. Cognitive development26(1), 30-39.

Rothbart, M. K. (1981). Measurement of temperament in infancy. Child development, 569-578.