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Infants and toddlers engage in instrumental helping, that is, help others in achieving an action-based goal. The underlying psychological mechanisms are unclear and hotly debated. The present study examined whether young children’s helping is affected by others’ need. To this end, 1.5- and 3.5-year-old children (n = 101) were simultaneously confronted with a needy and a non-needy other in a variety of helping tasks. The results show that the 3.5-year-old, but not the 1.5-year-old children preferentially helped the needy person. This suggests developmental changes in the psychological mechanisms underlying early instrumental helping. The results are explained by a developmental account according to which helping only gradually becomes an other-oriented and need-based behavior in the first years of life.
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- Is young children’s helping affected by helpees’ need? Preschoolers, but not infants selectively help needy others
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