The effects of mental representations of children on prosocial motivation
Does children's salience encourage us to help and support others? This project focuses on the role of children in our values, attitudes and behaviour.
Organisations have long suspected that they can enhance interest and support by putting children front and centre in their campaigns. For instance, children have been featured in campaigns for charity donations, road and rail safety, and to tackle smoking.
Such initiatives raise a key theoretical and applied question that has yet to be addressed: do children activate prosocial motivation in adults?
From an evolutionary perspective, we may have a biologically ingrained desire to provide children with resources and a safe and cooperative environment, to enhance offspring survival. In fact, previous research has shown that children - and even adults who have retained neonatal facial features and are baby-faced - elicit protective and care-taking motivations, empathy, patience and compassion.
However, while this evidence suggests that children and childlike adults elicit more pro-social motivation, research has not yet examined whether the salience of children can increase adults’ pro-social motivation to all other adults, and not just to children or child-like adults.
We aim to conduct at least six experiments over the course of three years to answer the following questions:
- does child salience make people more motivated to help and support others (children and adults), and more motivated to contribute to their community?
- under which conditions is this effect stronger (for example, thinking about babies), and what are the boundaries of such an effect (for example, thinking about terrorists' children)?
- what are the underlying psychological mechanisms in this effect?
This is a joint research effort by the University of Bath and Cardiff University, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The project operates in connection with the uVAB lab at Bath, which conducts research to better understand values attitudes and behaviour.
- Dr Lukas J. Wolf
- Professor Greg Maio
- Professor Geoff Haddock, Cardiff University
- Dr Colin Foad, Cardiff University
- Vlad Costin, Cardiff University
This project is part of the Understanding Values Attitudes Behaviour (uVAB) Lab.
The findings will be submitted to high-impact psychology journals and presented in symposia and presentations at several international conferences.
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