Assessing Adolescents' Prosocial Behavior: The Family Helping Inventory

By Midlarsky, Elizabeth; Hannah, Mary Elizabeth et al. | Adolescence, Spring 1995 | Go to article overview

Assessing Adolescents' Prosocial Behavior: The Family Helping Inventory


Midlarsky, Elizabeth, Hannah, Mary Elizabeth, Corley, Robin, Adolescence


In the literature on helping behavior, there has been little emphasis on systematic investigation of helping within the family. Nevertheless, a great deal of helping and support does apparently occur within the family context. Generalizing about children's behavior in six cultures, Whiting and Edwards (1973) found numerous instances of nurturant behavior directed toward parents and siblings, including sharing of material goods, and the provision of help, comfort, and physical care. Research evidence suggests that even very young children display predispositions to respond with empathy, care, and kindness to distress and problems of others (Martin & Clark, 1982; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, & King, 1983). However, age trends in prosocial behavior remain unclear. While sharing seems to increase with age (Midlarsky & Hannah, 1989; Radke-Yarrow, Zahn-Waxler, & Chapman, 1983), the relationship of age to helping behavior is complex (Midlarsky & Hannah, 1985; Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989). Results of research focusing specifically on age trends in comforting and caretaking vary, with some researchers finding increases (Berman, 1987; Bar-Tal, Raviv, & Goldberg, 1982) and others finding no increases (Gottman & Parkhurst, 1980). In regard to gender differences, while girls generally behave more helpfully than do boys in the context of experimental studies, gender differences are not consistently found in all experiments on helping (Block, 1973; Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983; Eisenberg & Mussen, 1989).

Within families, researchers have identified diverse patterns of interaction (Moos & Moos, 1986). For example, drawing on systems theory, Olson and McCubbin (1982) stress family cohesion and adaptability as the primary dimensions of family functioning, with effects on these dimensions coming from family processes such as support and assistance. Focusing exclusively on the siblings, Furman, Jones, Buhrmester, and Adler (1989) identified four independent dimensions of sibling relationships: warmth/closeness, relative power/status, conflict, and rivalry. The warmth/closeness dimension included helping, nurturance, intimacy, companionship, and admiration. In a similar vein, Bryant (1989) found that caretaking was composed of nurturance, challenge, punishment, and concern.

The primary methods used to study prosocial behavior among children and adolescents have been experimental analogues to socialization methods (e.g., Midlarsky, Bryan, & Brickman, 1973), home observations (Grusec, 1982; Yarrow, Scott, & Waxler, 1973), and reports by parents and teachers (Block & Block, 1973). Both for the sake of providing convergent operations, and because the child's own perceptions may be important correlates of behavior, this study was conducted to develop a self-report measure of helping within the family - the Family Helping Inventory (FHI). This paper reports the development, validation, and psychometric properties of the FHI, and of its two scales - the Sibling Helping Scale (SHS), and the Parent Helping Scale (PHS).

METHOD

Item Development

In defining helping behavior, a broad conceptualization was embraced. Drawing on the work by Caplan (1982), and Midlarsky & Kahana (1994); Sarason (1980), helping was defined as those activities in which one person provides physical assistance, emotional support, tangible assistance, supervision, teaching, nurturance, or general aid to another person.

Sixty-seven items were generated according to the following guidelines. First, to decrease variability attributable to subjective interpretations, items were made as behaviorally explicit as possible. Second, the items had to apply equally well to help when given to a parent or to a sibling; therefore, items which would be appropriate for only one type of family member were eliminated or rewritten. Third, every effort was made to include helping acts that could be engaged in by both boys and girls.

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