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The Formation of Prosociality: Causal Evidence on the Role of Social Environment - Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) Discussion Paper (No. 9861)

NCJ Number
Fabian Kosse; Thomas Deckers; Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch; Armin Falk
Date Published
April 2016
40 pages

This paper presents results from a study exploring the role of social environment for the formation of prosociality, using a research strategy that builds on conceptual framework that understands childhood to be a critical and sensitive period for the formation of personality.


The authors of this paper present descriptive and causal evidence on the role of social environment for the formation of personality in children. In the first step, the authors demonstrate that socio-economic status (SES) as well as the intensity of mother-child interaction and mothers’ prosocial attitudes are systematically related to elementary schoolchildren’s prosociality. In a second step, the authors present evidence on a randomly assigned variation of the social environment, providing children with a mentor for the duration of one year. The authors’ data includes a two-year follow-up, and findings indicated a significant and persistent increase in prosociality in the treatment group relative to the control group. The authors suggest that enriching the children’s social environment may have the potential to close the observed developmental gap in prosociality between low and high SES children.