Selectivity in Toddlers’ Behavioral and Emotional Reactions to Prosocial and Antisocial Others

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Whereas some evidence suggests that toddlers consider targets’ deservingness when deciding whom to help, other research demonstrates that toddlers help indiscriminately. The present findings shed light on this discrepancy by demonstrating that although toddlers do exhibit selectivity in giving behaviors, their emotional responses are comparatively indiscriminate. Specifically, in Experiment 1, 20-month-olds (N = 64) were more likely to give preferred toys to prosocial versus antisocial puppets, and more likely to withhold toys from antisocial versus prosocial puppets. Experiment 2 (N = 64) ruled out low-level explanations for the effects observed in Experiment 1, demonstrating that toddlers do not show the same effects when puppets’ toy preferences are unclear. Despite providing evidence for selectivity in giving behaviors, across both experiments, toddlers were happier after giving than before giving, regardless of what they gave or whom they gave to. These results reveal the possibility of a divergence in early prosociality: Toddlers’ giving behaviors are responsive to recipient deservingness, but their after-the-fact emotional reactions are responsive to giving acts themselves. Results are discussed in terms of their relevance to the debate regarding whether toddlers’ early prosocial behaviors are discriminate versus indiscriminate.

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