You and me: investigating the role of self-evaluative emotion in preschool prosociality

Josephine Ross (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
388 Downloads (Pure)


Self-evaluative emotions depend on internalized social standards and motivate social action. However, there is a lack of empirical research documenting the impact of self-evaluative emotion on 3- and 4-year-olds’ prosociality. Extant research relates children’s experiences of guilt to empathetic concern and making amends. However, the relationship between guilt and both concern and making amends is potentially reductive. Empathetic concern involves similar bodily expressions to guilt, and amend making is used to distinguish guilt from shame in children. This is the first study to relate the development of both positive and negative self-evaluative emotions to empathetic concern and prosocial choice (making amends, spontaneous help). Results confirm that the broad capacity for self-evaluative emotion is established in the preschool years, and relates to empathetic concern. Moreover, these social emotions can be used to predict prosocial choice. Making amends was best predicted by empathetic concern and by children’s responses to achievement (pride following success, lack of shame following failure). Alongside moral pride, pride in response to achievement and resilience to shame was also the best predictor of spontaneous help. The data support the idea that young children’s prosocial choices may be partially driven by the affective drive to maintain an ‘ideal’ self. Psychologists have emphasised that in order to be adaptive, self-evaluative emotion should be guilt rather than shame orientated. However, the adaptive role of pride has been neglected. We call on future research to redress the focus on negative self-evaluation in moral development and further explore the prosocial potential of pride.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-83
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date2 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Prosocial behavior
  • Empathetic concern
  • Self-evaluative emotion
  • Pride
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Self
  • Self-regulation
  • Moral development


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