ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2023, Vol. 55 ›› Issue (11): 1815-1826.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2023.01815

Previous Articles     Next Articles

Who makes the choice? The influence of choice on preschoolers’ sharing behaviors and feelings

WU Wenqing1,2, ZHANG Qinyuan3, ZHAO Xin4()   

  1. 1School of Psychology and Cognitive Sci ence, East China Normal University, Shanghai, 200062, China
    2Faculty of Education, Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai, 519087, China
    3Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY10027, America
    4Department of Educational Psychology, East China Normal University, Shanghai, 200062, China
  • Published:2023-11-25 Online:2023-08-31
  • Contact: ZHAO Xin


Previous research has indicated that the freedom of choice influences children’s prosocial motivation. However, little research has investigated the impact on children’s prosocial motivation of, one, the quality of the relationship between the child and the adult who makes the choices, or two, the provision of reasonable explanations. We investigated these questions with children aged 4 to 5 in China. In Study 1, children were randomly assigned to one of three choice conditions: self-choice (the child could decide for themself whether to share with a puppet or not), mother-choice (the child’s mother instructed the child to share), and experimenter-choice (the experimenter instructed the child to share). Prosocial motivation was measured via children’s feelings during the sharing task and their sharing behaviors towards a novel partner. Meanwhile, mothers in the self-choice and the mother-choice conditions completed a questionnaire measuring child-mother relatedness. We found that although there was no overall significant difference in children’s sharing behaviors or feelings across the three conditions, mother-child relatedness significantly moderated the effect of choice condition on children’s sharing feelings. Children who had positive relationships with their mothers demonstrated positive feelings when their mothers made the choice for them, similar to when they made the choice themselves. However, those who had neutral or negative relationships with their mothers demonstrated worse feelings when their mothers made the choice for them compared to when they made the choice themselves. In Study 2, we further investigated whether the provision of a reasonable explanation might influence children’s sharing motivation. We found that, when the mother provided an explanation, children shared more stickers with a novel partner than when children made choices themselves or when the mother forced them to share. These findings suggest that children’s prosocial motivations do not necessarily decrease when others make choices for them; instead, interpersonal relatedness and provision of explanations can protect children’s prosocial motivations.

Key words: prosocial motivation, choice, sharing, social cognitive development, preschoolers