Prosocial Development in Middle Childhood: A Longitudinal Study

Nancy Eisenberg, Rita Shell, Jeannette Pasternack, Randy Lennon, Rob Beller, Robin M. Mathy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was threefold: (a) to examine change in prosocial moral judgment over a 7-year period, (b) to determine whether there are gender differences in the development of prosocial moral judgment, and (c) to examine the interrelations of moral judgment, affect (empathy), and behavior in middle childhood. Participants were two groups of children who have been followed for 5 and 7 years and two groups of children interviewed for the first time at either ages 9-10 or 11-12. Hedonistic reasoning decreased with age; simple needs-oriented moral judgments increased with age and then leveled off; most other more sophisticated types of reasoning increased in a linear fashion with age. Modes of reasoning that most explicitly reflect role taking or empathy increased in use with age for girls but not for boys. Empathy was positively related to needs-oriented judgments and to higher-level prosocial reasoning and was negatively related to hedonistic reasoning (depending on the age of the children). Empathy was positively related to donating at 11-12 years of age but not at 9-10 years of age. Relations between behavior and reasoning varied depending on the structure and costs of a specific behavior. The results are discussed in relation to theory and research concerning developmental change in moral reasoning and possible mediators of prosocial development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)712-718
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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