Prosocial Behavior in Adolescence: Gender Differences in Development and Links with Empathy

Jolien Van der Graaff*, Gustavo Carlo, Elisabetta Crocetti, Hans M. Koot, Susan Branje

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although adolescents’ prosocial behavior is related to various positive outcomes, longitudinal research on its development and predictors is still sparse. This 6-wave longitudinal study investigated the development of prosocial behavior across adolescence, and examined longitudinal associations with perspective taking and empathic concern. Participants were 497 adolescents (Mage t1 =13.03 years, 43% girls) who reported on their prosocial behaviors, empathic concern, and perspective taking. The results revealed marked gender differences in the development of prosocial behavior. For boys, levels of prosocial behavior were stable until age 14, followed by an increase until age 17, and a slight decrease thereafter. For girls, prosocial behavior increased until age 16 years and then slightly decreased. Regarding longitudinal associations, empathic concern was consistently related to subsequent prosocial behavior. However, perspective taking was only indirectly related to prosocial behavior, via its effect on empathic concern. Tests of the direction of effects showed support for the notion that earlier prosocial behavior predicts subsequent empathy-related traits, but only for girls. The findings support cognitive-developmental and moral socialization theories of prosocial development and the primary role of moral emotions in predicting prosocial behaviors. Our findings inform strategies to foster prosocial behaviors by emphasizing moral emotions rather than moral cognitions during adolescence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1086-1099
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Issue number5
Early online date28 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • Adolescence
  • Development
  • Empathic concern
  • Perspective taking
  • Prosocial behavior


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