Children's and Adults' Prosocial Behavior in Real and Imaginary Social Interactions
MetadataShow full item record
In everyday life, there are many situations that elicit emotional reactions to an individual's plight, leading to empathic thoughts and helping behaviors. But what if the observed situation involves fictional characters rather than real life people? The main goal of this dissertation was to investigate the extent that empathic thoughts and helping behaviors characterize children's responses to fictional social interactions, as well as to real ones. Another goal was to develop a new measure of prosocial behavior. In Study 1, 60 undergraduate students (36 female; Mage = 19.87, SDage = 4.46) played two computerized ball-tossing games, one with 3 co-players who were believed to be other students and one in which a ball was tossed between 3 walls. During the second half of each game, one of the co-players/walls was excluded by the other two co-players/walls; the participant's subsequent increase in passes to the excluded co-player/wall was recorded. Participants increased their passes to the excluded real co-player more than to the excluded wall, indicating that the increase in the Real Condition were attempts to help another person, rather than simply to even out the distribution of passes. Study 2 extended these findings to children and tested the relationship between reactions to real and fictional social interactions. Seventy-one 5- and 8-year-old children (36 females; 35 5-year-olds: Mage = 5 years, 8.2 months, SDage = 2.4 months; 36 8-year-olds: Mage = 8 years, 6.5 months, SDage = 2.9 months) played the computerized ball tossing game with (1) other children they believed to be real, (2) novel cartoon characters, and (3) walls. One of the co-players/walls was excluded in the second half of each game. Although children reported similar empathic reactions towards the excluded real and fictional co-players, they increased their passes to the excluded real co-player more than to the excluded fictional character or wall (controlling for individual differences in real life empathy). These results suggest that children's emotional reactions to what they experience in fiction and in real life are similar, but they take the behavioral steps to help another individual only when that individual is believed to be a real person.