Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Correlates of Prosocial Behaviors of Students in Ethnically and Racially Diverse Middle Schools

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Correlates of Prosocial Behaviors of Students in Ethnically and Racially Diverse Middle Schools

Article excerpt

Prosocial behavior represents a broad category of voluntary acts intended to help or benefit others (Eisenberg & Müssen, 1989). The results of many studies suggest the importance of identifying factors that relate to adolescents helping their peers and engaging in other prosocial behaviors. Adolescents' prosocial behavior is linked to greater empathy (Barr & Higgins-D'Alessandro, 2007) and self-esteem (Rigby & Slee, 1993), higher grades and educational aspirations (Johnson, Beebe, Mortimer, & Snyder, 1998), and more stable and supportive peer relationships (Markiewicz, Doyle, & Brendgen, 2001; McDonald, Wang, Menzer, Rubin, & BoothLaForce, 2011). Moreover, prosocial relationships may serve as protective factors for youth at risk for social and academic difficulties (Catalano, Haggerty, Oesterle, Fleming, & Hawkins, 2004). Prosocial behavior may not only be beneficial to the helper and recipient but may also be a source of social harmony (Twenge, Baumeister, DeWall, Ciarocco, & Bartels, 2007).

The extent to which individuals engage in prosocial behavior appears to be influenced by (or at least related to) personal characteristics, socialization experiences, and situational influences (e.g., relationship to others, social expectations, type of environment) (Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006). In early adolescence, sociocultural contexts outside the home, such as peer groups, ethnic/racial groups, schools, and communities, become especially important influences on attitudes and behavior (Lerner, 2005). This influence shifts in part because youth are forming their social identities and developing a greater awareness of social norms and perspectives of others (Erikson, 1968).

Social identity theory proposes that individuals are likely to perceive differences between themselves and others and classify themselves and others into different social categories. These self-other categories may shape the way individuals interact with others such that to enhance their social identity people will be more likely to behave prosocially toward members of their own social group than toward members of other groups (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Ingroup preference in prosocial behavior may extend to categorizations of ethnicity/race. Some studies, for example, show that adults are more likely to help members of their own racial group than members of a different racial group (Benson, Karabenick, & Lerner, 1976; Brigham & Richardson, 1979; Wegner & Crano, 1975).

A central task of social identity development in early adolescence is ethnic/racial identity exploration and identification (Quintana, 1998). From Quintana's developmental perspective, in early adolescence with its advances in social perspective-taking capacities, social awareness of ethnicity/race and ethnic/racial differences develops, including awareness of the implications of ethnic/racial status for social interactions, interpersonal relationships, group memberships, prejudice, and discrimination. At this stage, ethnicity and ethnic group membership appears to also take on psychological significance for prosocial peer interactions. An example of this can be seen in Quintana's (1998) research revealing that sixth graders believe that a peer group composed of one ethnic group would cooperate better than members of an ethnically diverse peer group. The emerging salience of ethnicity in intergroup and intragroup social relations in early adolescence suggests that it is a critical developmental period in which to examine how perceptions of ethnicity relate to prosocial behavior.

Consistent with social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986), the extent of homogeneity or heterogeneity of individuals' background char- acteristics may be a contextual factor with relevance for how individuals treat one another. The interpersonal effect of perceived similarity upon helping has been widely noted in the literature on prosocial behavior (e. …

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