Children's Justifications for Their Adult and Peer-Directed Compliant (Prosocial and Nonprosocial) Behaviors

Nancy Eisenberg, Teresa Lundy, Rita Shell, Karlsson Roth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The purposes of this study were (a) to explore differences in the quality of child-child and adult-child interactions, and (b) to examine children's reasoning about their own compliant behaviors. Preschool children were observed in their classrooms and were interviewed briefly concerning their behavior whenever they were seen complying with either an adult's or a peer's request or demand. Only 32% of compliant behaviors requested by adults were prosocial (directly benefited another), whereas 76% of compliant behaviors requested by peers were prosocial. Children frequently justified behaviors requested by adults with references to authorities' dictates and punishment; however, this type of reasoning was seldom used in association with peer-initiated actions. Children attributed behaviors requested by peers to other-oriented or relational (friendship, liking) concerns more frequently than they did behaviors requested by adults. The difference in children's use of authority/punishment and other-oriented justifications for peer- versus adult-requested behaviors was found with regard to both prosocial and nonprosocial requests; the children used more justifications regarding liking of others and friendship only when the request was prosocial in content. The data are discussed in terms of their support for theorists' assertions regarding the difference in peer and adult interaction and in relation to the literature on children's reasoning and attributions about prosocial behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-331
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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