Infants’ prosocial behavior is governed by cost-benefit analyses

Jessica A. Sommerville, Elizabeth A. Enright, Rachel O. Horton, Kelsey Lucca, Miranda J. Sitch, Susanne Kirchner-Adelhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Cost-benefit analyses are central to mature decision-making and behavior across a range of contexts. Given debates regarding the nature of infants’ prosociality, we investigated whether 18-month-old infants’ (N = 160) prosocial behavior is impacted by anticipated costs and benefits. Infants participated in a helping task in which they could carry either a heavy or light block across a room to help an experimenter. Infants’ helping behavior was attenuated when the anticipated physical costs were high versus low (Experiment 1), and high-cost helping was enhanced under conditions of increased intrinsic motivational benefits (Experiments 2 and 3). High-cost helping was further predicted by infants’ months of walking experience, presumably because carrying a heavy block across a room is more effortful for less experienced walkers than for more experienced walkers demonstrating that infants subjectively calibrate costs. Thus, infants’ prosocial responding may be guided by a rational decision-making process that weighs and integrates costs and benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Aug 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Cost-benefit analyses
  • Infancy
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Shared preferences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Infants’ prosocial behavior is governed by cost-benefit analyses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this