Moral & Prosocial Behavior: Definitions & Examples of Classroom Applications

Lesson Transcript
Melissa Hurst

Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

Caring, volunteering, empathizing with others: these are all traits of moral and prosocial behavior. As children age, they develop such moral and prosocial behaviors and traits. This lesson will define these key terms and discuss ways to promote moral and prosocial behavior in the classroom.

Moral and Prosocial Behavior

(Scene: Two small boys, Jim and Andrew, are in a classroom. Jim holds a toy car, but he notices that Andrew is looking at it with interest. Jim offers the truck to Andrew, who takes it and walks away.)

Teacher: 'Jim, what nice sharing. Thank you for setting a good example! Andrew, please try to demonstrate nicer behavior. Say thank you when Jim offers you his toy.'

Teacher (to herself): 'I wish Andrew would demonstrate better behavior. I wonder how I can help him learn appropriate prosocial behaviors in class.'

What you have witnessed is an example of prosocial behavior. This lesson will define prosocial behavior and morality, explore the developmental trends of these behaviors and explain methods of promoting prosocial and moral behavior in the classroom.

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  • 0:05 Moral and Prosocial Behavior
  • 0:56 Key Terms: Prosocial…
  • 1:49 Developmental Trends
  • 3:54 Promoting Prosocial…
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Key Terms: Prosocial and Morality

Prosocial behavior is defined as behavior directed toward promoting the well-being of another. Behaviors such as caring, helping, sharing and volunteering are encompassed under the category of prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior may originate and be motivated by concern about the welfare of others and the rights of others.

Morality is defined as one's general standards and beliefs about right and wrong. Traits such as honesty, fairness and responsibility for one's own actions fall under the category of morality. Additionally, the students' beliefs about moral and immoral behavior affect their behavior at school, which makes the understanding of this topic critical for current and future educators.

Prosocial behavior is the promotion of the well-being of others through feelings and actions.
Prosocial Behavior

Developmental Trends

Most children behave more morally and prosocially as they grow older. There are many theories of moral development, but this lesson will focus on the general applications of moral and prosocial development.

Researchers have found that children begin using internal standards to evaluate behavior at an early age. These standards may have been formed by observing others engaging in prosocial behavior or being told at some point what is right and wrong.

Let's take a look at Jim and Andrew when they were two years old. We see that Jim is learning how to share and his parents are encouraging prosocial behavior. On the other hand, Andrew is learning from his older brother that snatching is how you get a toy.

As they grow older, children increasingly distinguish between moral and conventional transgressions. Moral transgressions are actions that cause harm or infringe on the needs and rights of others. Conventional transgressions are actions that violate a culture's general expectations regarding socially appropriate behavior.

Children's understanding of fairness evolves through early and middle childhood. This is sometimes referred to as distributive justice, which is a set of beliefs about what constitutes people's fair share of a commodity.

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Additional Activities

Moral and Prosocial Behavior

Activity 1:

In this lesson you learned that empathy develops over time, and that prosocial behaviors tend to increase with age and understanding. Is all prosocial behavior selfless in your opinion? When a person is helping another person, is it solely for the benefit of the other person? Can you imagine some "payoffs" a person might experience when engaging in a prosocial act that might account for the seemingly helpful behavior? Make a list of five to ten benefits that a person him or herself might experience from engaging in prosocial behavior and could potentially explain the behavior.

Activity 2:

Think about prosocial behavior in terms of nature versus nurture, or biology versus environment. The lesson you read emphasized the environmental influences on prosocial behavior. Could there be a biological component? Could a tendency toward prosocial behavior be genetic? Are some people innately more altruistic than others? State your position on this topic, and provide at least three reasons or examples to support your view.

Activity 3:

For this activity you are a counselor who has been hired by a school system to teach moral and prosocial behavior to children at various developmental levels. You will have a class with preschoolers, with elementary school students, with middle school students, and with high school students. Develop an intervention with each age group designed to teach them how to be more helpful, prosocial, empathic, and moral. Remember to keep in mind the different cognitive levels of each group and factor that awareness into your intervention for each group.

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