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Development of Other-Regarding Preferences in Children and Adolescents

Katrin John

Other-regarding preferences, hence appreciation of others’ welfare, are mainly culturally transmitted, whereby most of the development takes place in the sensitive period of childhood and adolescence. This work analyzes the development as well as possible influencing factors of other-regarding preferences during this period. To test the hypotheses derived from developmental and socialization aspects, the author conducts a survey measuring altruistic and cooperative preferences for German pupils. Results show that over the age span studied altruism and cooperation are increasingly important. Individual differences show none or only small relationship with measures of other-regarding preferences while differences in school environments are similarly important to age differences.

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6 Concluding Remarks


This dissertation has analyzed the development of children’s and adolescents’ other-regarding preferences. Exploration of the relevant literature points out diverse influences ranging from evolutionary determination of reciprocal altruism to individual development due to cognitive development. Furthermore, different ways of cultural transmission of other-regarding preferences are discussed in detail. Starting from this, potentially relevant factors are operationalized as measures of background and individual characteristics. Using a sample of German schoolchildren aged 10 to 17 years, preferences for altruism and cooperation have been examined with regard to aspects of development and socialization. Differences across age groups, especially with regard to preferences for altruism, are distinct confirming the developmental aspect of other-regarding preferences. While younger pupils frequently allocate endowments egoistically and free-ride on the public good, older pupils are more altruistic and display less free-riding behavior. Individual differences in measures of other-regarding preferences according to gender, personality, family background, ability and residence are rather low. In contrast, heterogeneity between single schools is large. Although the developmental path can be shown to exist for all schools in the sample, the level differs. Similarly, school tracks show persistent differences in altruistic preferences, which cannot be explained by heterogeneous composition of pupils. Cultural transmission in the form of school environment therefore seems to contribute to the development of other-regarding preferences. More generally, environmental influences as well as cognitive development are the influences considered relevant. Individual background apparently is of minor influence.

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