Parental Presence and Encouragement Do Not Influence Helping in Young Children


should be sent to Felix Warneken, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland St., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail:


Young children begin helping others with simple instrumental problems from soon after their first birthdays. In previous observations of this phenomenon, both naturalistic and experimental, children’s parents were in the room and could potentially have influenced their behavior. In the two current studies, we gave 24-month-old children the opportunity to help an unfamiliar adult obtain an out-of-reach object when the parent (or a friendly female adult) (i) was present but passive, (ii) was present and highlighted the problem for the child, (iii) was present and actively encouraged the child to help, (iv) was present and ordered the child to help, or (v) was absent from the room. The children helped at relatively high levels and equally under all these treatment conditions. There was also no differential effect of treatment condition on children’s helping in a subsequent test phase in which no parent was present, and children had to disengage from a fun activity to help. Young children’s helping behavior is not potentiated or facilitated by parental behavior in the immediate situation, suggesting that it is spontaneous and intrinsically motivated.