Early Sympathy and Social Acceptance Predict the
Development of Sharing in Children
Tina Malti1,4*, Michaela Gummerum2, Monika Keller3, Maria Paula Chaparro1, Marlis Buchmann4
1Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 2Department of Psychology, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, England, United
Kingdom, 3Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany, 4Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Sharing is a fascinating activity of the human species and an important basis for the development of fairness, care, and
cooperation in human social interaction. Economic research has proposed that sharing, or the willingness to sacrifice own
resources for others, has its roots in social emotions such as sympathy. However, only few cross-sectional experiments have
investigated children’s other-regarding preferences, and the question how social-emotional skills influence the willingness
to share valuable resources has not been tested. In the present longitudinal-experimental study, a sample of 175 6-year-old
children, their primary caregivers, and their teachers is examined over a 3-year period of time. Data are analyzed by means
of growth curve modeling. The findings show that sharing valuable resources strongly increases in children from 6 to 9 years
of age. Increases in sharing behavior are associated with the early-developing ability to sympathize with anonymous others.
Sharing at 7 years of age is predicted by feelings of social acceptance at 6 years of age. These findings hold after controlling
for children’s IQ and SES. Girls share more equally than boys at 6 and 7 years of age, however, this gender difference
disappears at the age of 9 years. These results indicate that human sharing strongly increases in middle childhood and, that
this increase is associated with sympathy towards anonymous others and with feelings of social acceptance. Additionally,
sharing develops earlier in girls than in boys. This developmental perspective contributes to new evidence on change in
sharing and its social-emotional roots. A better understanding of the factors underlying differences in the development of
sharing and pro-social orientations should also provide insights into the development of atypical, anti-social orientations
which exhibit social-emotional differences such as aggression and bullying behavior.
Citation: Malti T, Gummerum M, Keller M, Chaparro MP, Buchmann M (2012) Early Sympathy and Social Acceptance Predict the Development of Sharing in
Children. PLoS ONE 7(12): e52017. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052017
Editor: Tiziana Zalla, Ecole Normale Supe ´rieure, France
Received May 22, 2012; Accepted November 9, 2012; Published December 13, 2012
Copyright: ? 2012 Malti et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: This research was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to
publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
* E-mail: email@example.com
Sharing is a fascinating activity of the human species and a focus
of interest in various disciplines including psychology, economics,
and evolutionary science. It exemplifies the willingness to take the
welfare of others into account and thus represents ‘‘other-
regarding’’ preferences . Investigating the developmental
antecedents of such ‘‘other-regarding’’ preferences will ultimately
help in understanding the roots of fairness, caring, and cooper-
ation in human social interaction [1,2]. Here we use sharing
resources with anonymous others as an empirical indicator of
‘‘other-regarding’’ preferences  and one subtype of prosocial
Prosocial behaviors have been studied by psychologists for
decades . Most of these studies have focused on other forms of
prosocial behavior, such as children’s instrumental or altruistic
helping or providing emotional support for needy others. These
behaviors are either measured experimentally [4,5] or assessed
through observations , parent reports or teacher reports [7,8].
More recently the behavioral economics approach of evaluating
sharing with anonymous others, such as the Dictator Game, has
become an interdisciplinary paradigm to study other-regarding
preferences [9,10]. Sharing resources with anonymous others, like
other forms of prosocial behavior (e.g., instrumental or altruistic
helping), is based on a concern for others’ needs and goals and the
motivation to assist them . Yet, sharing resources with
anonymous others in the Dictator Game incurs real tangible costs
for the actor, whereas the efforts associated with measures of
prosocial behavior are generally low-cost (see ). Furthermore,
whereas many experimental, observational, and questionnaire
measures of prosocial behavior cannot be easily operationalized
for different age groups, the strength of using the behavioral
economic paradigm lies in the fact that the same experimental
instrument (i.e., the Dictator Game) can be used across wide range
of age groups which maximizes the ability to draw meaningful
comparisons across development . Because proposers in a one-
shot dictator game only interact once with an anonymous other
player who cannot reciprocate or punish in a future round of the
game, their positive offers have been interpreted as altruistic or
have been attributed to their fairness concerns .
Only a few experiments have investigated children’s other-
regarding preferences in this paradigm [9,10,14,15] , and whether
younger children are self-serving or prefer equality in resource
allocations is still debated [10,16] . A recent experiment examining
sharing has shown that 7- to 8-year-olds, but not 3- to 4-year olds,
prefer equal resource allocations when sharing with friends and
acquaintances . There have not been any empirical studies that
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have examined the social-emotional antecedents of children’s
sharing resources with anonymous others.
All of the studies that assessed sharing resources with behavioral
economic tasks, such as the Dictator Game, have relied on cross-
sectional data sets composed of children who vary in age. Thus,
although there is some limited evidence that children’s other-
regarding preferences increase from early-to-middle childhood, it
is not known if this developmental increase applies to all children
equally or if some children have these preferences from early on. If
the latter is true, it remains an open and intriguing question in
what characteristics children with early-existing other-regarding
preferences might differ from children who develop these
preferences in middle childhood.
In order to measure how children’s willingness to share
resources with others develops over time, and to understand
which factors influence these other-regarding preferences, longi-
tudinal data sets are necessary . In order to assess individual
stability of sharing across development we investigated 175 Swiss
children (85 girls) in a longitudinal-experimental study. The
children were assessed at 6 years of age, 7 years of age, and 9 years
of age with the Dictator Game, a paradigmatic economics task of
prosocial sharing behavior with an anonymous other (see below).
We focused on two socio-emotional antecedents of sharing,
namely sympathy and social acceptance. The question of whether
children’s other-regarding preferences are rooted in sympathy is
striking, as recent experiments suggest that non-human primates
are able to sympathize with others, especially if these others are
members of their immediate social group [18,19]. Such in-group
preference has also been observed in preschool-children .
Sympathy entails feelings of concern for the other person based
on an understanding of that person’s circumstances [21,22].
Sympathy (i.e., other-oriented concern), like empathy (i.e.,
emotional contagion), involves the comprehension or apprehen-
sion of another’s affective state. Unlike empathy, however,
sympathy primarily entails other-oriented concern and not the
experience of the same or a similar emotion as the other . In
this way, sympathy entails a degree of distancing between the self
and the other that is not present in empathy . Sympathy has
been posited by theorists to be an important motive of morally
relevant, prosocial behavior , and it might be an antecedent of
sharing resources with anonymous others . In contrast,
empathy might not lead to prosocial behavior, because it can
either lead to sympathy for another or personal distress. Thus,
empathy would relate positively to prosocial behavior only in
specific situations . In addition, empathic overarousal can lead
to feelings of being overwhelmed so that one cannot be concerned
with the needy other .
We investigated whether developmental processes in sharing
with anonymous others depend on the earlier propensity to
sympathize with anonymous others who are not members of the
immediate social group. The focus on the early social-emotional
roots of humans’ other-regarding preferences is new and
fascinating because philosophers and psychologists have argued
that social emotions play a role in the development of prosocial
behaviors and are important motivators for prosociality in general
. Previous psychological and economic research has mostly
focused on the cognitive antecedents of other-regarding prefer-
ences, such as theory of mind.
Sharing may not only be influenced by the capacity to
sympathize with anonymous others, but also by the extent to
which one feels socially accepted by others, especially peers
[27,28]. Peer acceptance is important to children’s social,
emotional, and behavioral development, because it provides
opportunities to learn and interact with children, which in turn
promotes development . Humans need to feel a sense of
acceptance and belonging to develop an other-orientation .
We examined if sharing valuable resources with others relies on
early feelings of being accepted by peers; does a child’s need for
acceptance predict how they will subsequently share with
Sharing seems also to differ across gender. There is evidence
that females are more averse to unequal sharing than males .
Yet, it is not known when these gender differences in other-
regarding preferences emerge in humans. The few existing
findings on early gender differences in sharing are inconsistent.
Some studies show no differences, and others show that females
share more generously than males in some age groups [32,33]. If
indeed there are evolutionarily-derived gender differences in
sharing, then it is likely that they evolve early in life.
We studied children’s sharing when they were 6, 7 and 9 years
of age. According to Fehr et al. , at the age of 6, unequal, self-
serving distributions should dominate, whereas by the age of 9,
about half, or more, of the participants should show equal
allocations. At each of the three time points, sharing behavior was
assessed in a one-shot experiment with anonymous interaction
partners [8,9,10,33]. We presented children with identical stickers
and asked them to distribute the stickers, in any way they want
among themselves and an anonymous child of the same age and
gender (see Materials and Methods). Via standardized question-
naires, we asked primary caregivers to report on their children’s
sympathy towards anonymous distressed others at each time point,
as well as on their children’s feelings of social acceptance. We also
obtained these reports from the children themselves and from the
children’s classroom teachers through the same standardized
questionnaire at each time point. Multi-informant measures have
been shown to be the most reliable sources of information on
children’s social-emotional skills . In order to control for
variables known to be of influence on other-regarding preferences
, we collected information about the family’s socioeconomic
status (SES) and obtained the children’s intelligence quotient.
The descriptive statistics of all study variables, as well as the
correlation coefficients across all main study variables, are
presented in Table 1.
Overall, 43% of the children shared evenly across all assessment
points. Fifty-seven percent of the children were not willing to
equally allocate resources at least one time point. We used
unconditional latent growth modeling in Mplus (version 6.11) to
test if there was growth in sharing, and if there was variability
among the children in their growth curves . The unconditional
linear growth model provided good fit to the data, AIC=2881.06,
BIC=2862.07. Both the intercept and slope factors were
significant forthe sharing
SE=0.01, p,.001, and Slope Est.=0.01, SE=0.01, p,.01,
respectively. We found an increase in children’s sharing from
the age of 6 to 9 years (see Figure 1), and there was significant
variability among children in the intercept and linear slope.
We found a strong gender effect in sharing. On average, girls
shared more than boys at 6 years of age, F(1, 174)=6.20, p=.01 ,
g2=.04, and at 7 years of age, F(1, 174)=6.02, p=.02, g2=.03.
In contrast, girls and boys did not differ in the number of stickers
shared when they were 9 years of age, F(1, 174)=3.41, ns (see
Next, to test our hypothesis regarding the effects of sympathy
and social acceptance on the development of sharing, we estimated
two latent growth curve models with time-varying and time-
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invariant covariates. The time-varying covariate was matched to
the later outcome. In other words, sympathy and social acceptance
at 6 years of age was matched to sharing at 7 years of age, and
sympathy and social acceptance at 7 years of age was matched to
sharing at 9 years of age. The time-varying covariates were
estimated to have a direct effect on the later-time sharing indicator
. Gender, verbal intelligence, and SES were added as time-
invariant covariates and were used to predict the intercept and
slope factors in the models.
The model for sympathy and sharing fit the data very well
(Table 2). There were time-specific effects of sympathy at Time 1
on sharing at Time 2 (p,.01) and sympathy at Time 2 on sharing
at Time 3 (p,.05), indicating that sympathy at Time 1 and Time 2
predicted an increase in levels of sharing at subsequent time points.
This finding held even after controlling for gender, child
intelligence, and SES. The model also indicated that after adding
the time-varying sympathy variables, the initially significant time
effect (i.e., increase in sharing with age) remained significant. This
finding indicates that sympathy at Time 1 and Time 2 predicted
growth above and beyond the trajectory captured by the growth
factor; however, it did not fully account for the general increase in
sharing with age. Gender predicted initial level of sharing; that is,
girls showed higher initial levels of sharing than boys. Gender did
not predict growth.
In contrast, the latent growth curve analysis yielded no
significant effects of social acceptance on the increase in sharing.
Table 1. Means (standard deviations), ranges and Spearman correlation coefficients of the main study variables.
M(SD)Range123456789 10 11
1. Sharing at T1 (Age 6)a
2. Sharing at T2 (Age 7)a
3. Sharing at T3 (Age 9)a
.48(.07) 0–.92.09 .12
4. Sympathy at T1 (Age 6).54(.16) 0–.92.04.11.04
5. Sympathy at T2 (Age 7).61(.13).17–.92.13 .14.12 .23**
6. Sympathy at T3 (Age 9).68(.14).22–1.15 .23**.17* .29**.48**
7. Social acceptance at T1 (Age 6)4.14(.65)1.96–6 .01.12 .18*.26** .21** .15
8. Social acceptance at T2 (Age 7)4.17(.71)2.13–6.10 .00-.02.10 .39** .22**.51**
9. Social acceptance at T3 (Age 9)4.04(.90) 1–6.20**.04-.11 .09.30** .36**.41** .56**
10. Intelligence quotient (T1)97.1(11.71)74–132 .05 .05.01.22**.07.13 .22** .11.05
11. Socioeconomic status (T1) 5.78(2.45)1–10 -.09.08 .09.14 .07.15 .16*.09 .07.22**
12. Gender (T1)-- .17*.18* .20**.17* .27**.26** .17* .14.19*.03.07
aSharing scores represent proportional scores.
Notes. T1=Time 1. T2=Time 2. T3=Time 3.
Figure 1. Development trend of children’s sharing from 6 to 9 years as a function of gender. The figure shows mean proportion scores of
shared stickers as a function of age and gender (N=175). Growth curve modeling indicates that there is a significant increase in sharing over time,
Intercept Est.=0.45, SE=0.01, p,.001, and Slope Est.=0.01, SE=0.01, p,.01. Proportions of shared stickers at each time point are calculated
separately for boys and girls and compared using one-way ANOVAs. At Time 1 (age 6) and Time 2 (age 7), girls share significantly more stickers than
boys, F(1, 174)=6.00, p=.02 , g2=.03, and F(1, 174)=6.07, p=.02, g2=.03, respectively. At Time 3 (Age 9), boys catch up, and the difference
between the number of stickers shared by girls and boys is not significant, F(1, 174)=2.65, p=.11. Error bars represent SEM; *p,.05.
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However, a regression analysis indicated that sharing at Time 2
was predicted by social acceptance at Time 1 (b=.16, p,.05).
This finding held even after controlling for sharing at Time 1,
gender, child intelligence, and SES (R2=.07, F(5, 174)=2.43,
p,.05). Sharing at Time 3 was not significantly predicted by
earlier social acceptance (see Table 3).
Discussion and Conclusions
Given the pivotal role that other-regarding preferences play in
fairness, caring, and cooperation, it is important to understand
how they develop in humans . Sharing has been regarded as
an important indicator of other-regarding preferences. Notably,
we found that children share more, and thus become less self-
focused and more other-oriented, from 6 to 9 years of age. Studies
have shown that instrumental helping (i.e., helping another
individual achieve its instrumental goal) develops in early
childhood , that young children share after having worked
together to earn a reward , and that 7- to 8-year-olds, but not
3- to 4-year olds, prefer equal resource allocations when sharing
with friends .
Our findings document that sharing equally with anonymous
others increases from middle to late childhood. In addition, we
show that for a substantial number of children, other-regarding
preferences seem to exist from the age of 6 and remain highly
stable across middle childhood. For others, however, social-
emotional factors (i.e., sympathy, social acceptance) might play a
central role in developing other-regarding preferences. The
developmental process in other-regarding preferences is likely
due to children’s growing concern with norms of fairness and
caring [38,39,40]. Additionally, as children move from middle to
late childhood, they may also learn that fairness and caring help
them in earning respect and acceptance by their peers . The
latter may be the reason why they increasingly share resources
Whether young children show either selfish or other-regarding
preferences from early on may be due to differences in sympathy:
Sympathy towards anonymous distressed others strongly predicted
subsequent sharing, even after controlling for earlier sharing,
intelligence, and family SES. These findings implicate that human
sharing is critically shaped by the earlier propensity to sympathize
with anonymous others. Evolutionary theories suggest that one of
the driving forces behind altruism is sympathy, especially if
members of one’s immediate social groups are involved . In
the present study, we demonstrated that concern for anonymous
others in distress might be an important human capacity which
leads to other-regarding preferences. According to psychological
theories, sympathy is important for prosocial behavior, as feeling
negative emotions when someone else is experiencing distress
increases the likelihood of caring . It is likely that these feelings
result, in part, from processes of understanding others’ emotions
(i.e. affective perspective-taking skills). Since perspective-taking
skills develop over the course of middle childhood, children may
increasingly care about others’ feelings and, as a result, act more
prosocially towards them [38,42].
The development of other-regarding preferences might also be
due to differences in social acceptance. Our findings indicate that
Table 2. Parameter estimates (standard errors) for the latent
growth curve models with time-varying covariates for effects
of sympathy on the development of sharing.
Mean intercept 0.29 (0.07)***
Mean slope 0.15 (0.03)***
Intercept variance0.00 (0.00)
Slope variance0.01 (0.00)
Intercept/ slope covariance
Sympathy T1 - SharingT2 0.06 (0.02)**
Sympathy T2 - Sharing T3 0.08 (0.04)*
Gender at T1a
Verbal intelligence at T1a
SES at T1a
Notes.aCoefficients for the time-invariant covariates are reported for the
intercept only. None of the covariates showed significant slope effects.
T1=Time 1. T2=Time 2. T3=Time 3.
***p,.001, **p,.01, *p,.05,
Table 3. Results of the hierarchical linear regression analyses predicting sharing at Time 2 and Time 3 by earlier social acceptance.
Sharing Time 2 Sharing Time 3
R2/ F for stepIndependent variables
R2/ F for step
.04/ 2.27 Step 1a
Gender.18* Gender .13
SES .03SES .08
Step 2 .07/ 2.43* Step 2.07/ 1.83
Social acceptance T1 .16*Social acceptance T1/T2.18*/-.10
Sharing T1.08Sharing T1/T2.12/-.13
T1=Time 1. T2=Time 2. T3=Time 3.
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social acceptance at 6 years of age strongly predicted sharing at 7
years of age, even after controlling for earlier sharing, intelligence,
and family SES. These findings are striking as they implicate that
children’s sharing is critically shaped by whether they feel accepted
by others earlier on. Psychological theories emphasize the need for
belonging as one of the core human needs [27,28]. Our findings
provide evidence for the notion that being accepted by others at
the kindergarten age leads to increased willingness to share
valuable resources with others at the elementary-school age. This
latter finding suggests that feelings of being socially accepted
during the transition from kindergarten to elementary school, a
time when children have to adjust to a new environment and new
social groups, are particularly important for the development of
Our results showed that important gender differences exist with
respect to other-regarding preferences. Younger girls tended to
share more than boys, but this gender difference disappeared
when children got older. Thus, it seems that gender may play an
important role in the emergence of sharing  in early and
middle childhood. These results can be interpreted in different
ways: Socialization theories assume that children become increas-
ingly aware of their social reputation when they move from middle
to late childhood . Hence, both boys and girls may
increasingly try to maintain a positive peer reputation by behaving
Studies in the behavioural economic paradigm have usually
assessed age-differences in other-regarding preferences among
cross-sectional samples. Compared to cross-sectional studies,
longitudinal data sets, such as the one analyzed in the current
study, offer the advantage of assessing individual stability of
sharing resources across development. Other psychological
research investigated the development of prosocial behavior and
related socio-emotional abilities longitudinally in toddlers and
preschool children. For example, Zahn-Waxler and colleauges
(1992) found that some aspects of sympathy, such as expressing
concern for a person hurting her finger and attempts to
comprehend the distress of this person, increased significantly in
children assessed at 14 and 20 months of age, but that the
frequency of prosocial acts (i.e., helping or comforting the
distressed person) remained stable . Knafo and Plomin (2006)
showed that parents rated their children as significantly more
prosocial at age 3 than at age 2 . Taken together, these studies
indicate that, beginning in toddlerhood, prosocial behavior
increases over middle to later childhood. Further longitudinal
studies should assess sharing with the same instrument over a wide
age range (from toddlerhood to adolescence).
Our results revealed that the ability to sympathize with others
and the feeling of being socially accepted were longitudinally
predictive of increased sharing, but no cross-sectional relations
were found in the multivariate analyses. These results suggest that
sympathy and social acceptance play an important role in
children’s early orientation towards the needs of others -an
orientation that predicts generous sharing behavior later in
development. The surprising finding that sympathy predicts later,
but not concurrent, increases in sharing, may be due to the
difference in salience that competing motivations to share or not
share (e.g., motivations based on concerns of fairness or morality
versus motivations based on hedonism) have at different stages of
development. Existing research documents cross-sectional rela-
tions between sharing valuable resources with sympathy in 4-year-
olds only, but not in 8- and 12-year-olds ( , see also ).
Research also demonstrates that hedonistic concerns (i.e., a focus
on obtaining desired outcomes for the self) exert a powerful
influence over prosocial dilemmas, including decisions to share or
not share, in early childhood [45,46]. Prosocial decisions later in
childhood, however, increasingly incorporate more differentiated
concerns including those of fairness and morality, as well as
concerns over reciprocity, need, merit, and social reputation
[15,23]. It may be the case that sympathy at the age of 6, though
not salient enough to overcome hedonistic motivations to keep
resources for the self, may predispose children to consider the
needs and feelings of others in the face of competing concerns later
in development. Similarly, social acceptance at the age of 6 may
predispose children to share valuable resources later in develop-
ment because being accepted by peers early in development may
create subsequent trust in others, which has been shown to lead to
an increase in sharing from early childhood to adulthood , and
which is related to a more pro-social and less antisocial orientation
towards peers later in development . However, the effects for
the findings on social acceptance were very small in size. Thus,
these interpretations admittedly have to remain speculative.
Clearly, future research is warranted to validate our findings.
In conclusion, the fact that children increasingly shared valuable
resources with others shows that human children strongly develop
other-regarding preferences from middle to late childhood. These
preferences develop earlier in girls than in boys, but there are no
gender differences in other-regarding preferences by late child-
hood and early adolescence . Our finding regarding sharing
being predicted by the early ability to sympathize with anonymous
others demonstrates that sharing may be rooted in a human
tendency to feel for others who are suffering, even if they are
strangers. In addition, children’s sharing was in part driven by
feelings of social acceptance, which indicates that an orientation
towards others may also depend on feeling happy and safe in the
company of others. These findings have important implications for
clinical interventions aimed at increasing an orientation towards
others and at decreasing antisocial behavior in children.
Materials and Methods
The current study consisted of non-invasive and unconstrained
child interviews ; these interviews were conducted in separate
rooms at schools and at home. According to the current
regulations in the canton of Zurich in Switzerland (the so-called
‘‘Regulations of the Ethics Commission for Psychological Re-
search’’, 2011), there is no requirement for an ethics committee
approval. According to this regulation (Article 5, paragraph 1), this
study is exempted from requiring formal ethical approval. The
study fully complies with the ethics guidelines given by this legal
regulation (see Article 8, paragraph 2). The regulation is based on
the ‘‘Ethical Principals of Psychologists and Code of Conduct’’ (as
outlined in the so-called ‘‘Ethical Guidelines for Psychologists of
the Swiss Society for Psychology, as amended on October 13,
2003) and the ethical standards of the American Psychological
Association (APA). Only children for whom parental written
informed consent was obtained participated in the study. The
interviews began after receiving permission from the schools. The
data were analyzed anonymously.
The data were taken from the first three waves of a Swiss
longitudinal study concerning social development from childhood
to adolescence. A random sample of kindergarten children and
their primary caregivers was drawn from residents of the canton of
Zurich in Switzerland. Written informed consent was obtained
from the primary caregivers. Interviews were conducted at T1
with 175 children and 175 primary caregivers. One-hundred and
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sixty-three of the primary caregivers (93%) filled in a supplemen-
tary questionnaire. The children had an average age of 6.10 years
(SD=0.19). There were 85 girls (48.6%) and 90 boys (51.4%). Of
the primary caregivers, 98% gave written consent to contact the
child’s kindergarten teacher, and 133 of the corresponding
kindergarten teachers filled in a questionnaire (77%). The great
majority of participants were White. At the second assessment
(T2), interviews were carried out with 158 children; one child
refused to participate and one mother refused to let the child
participate because the child was too shy.
Consent to contact the teacher at T2 was obtained from 154
parents (96%), and 140 teachers (91%) filled in a questionnaire. At
T2, the children had an average age of 7.08 years (SD=0.20).
At the third assessment (T3; two years after T2), 141 interviews
and 139 interviews were carried out with children and primary
caregivers, respectively. One hundred and thirty-four (96%) of the
primary caregivers completed a supplementary questionnaire that
measured the child’s social development and the primary
caregiver’s parenting style. Consent to contact the teacher at T3
was obtained from 141 parents (100%), and 130 teachers (93%)
filled in a questionnaire. The average age of the children at T3 was
Sample attrition effects were tested by comparing the primary
caregivers at T1 (N=175) whose children dropped out with those
whose children dropped out at T2 (N=15) and T3 (N=21) on
demographic variables (i.e., highest primary caregiver education,
marital status) and the study variables at T1. Children who
dropped out at T2 had caregivers who were more likely to lack a
significant other (25% of the caregivers were single) than children
who stayed in the sample (7% of the caregivers were single) at T2,
x2(1, 175)=4,44, p , .05. No other variables were related to
attrition status. Although retention in the study was high, there
were some missing data. Therefore, single imputation was carried
out to estimate the values for the missing data points using the
expectation maximization method (SPSS Version 19).
The first assessment was conducted during the spring of 2006.
The second and third assessments were completed 1 and 2 years
later respectively, using the same procedure as the one used at T1.
There were three sessions for each child at T1, each lasting
approximately 60 minutes: one at home consisting of a computer-
assisted personal interview (CAPI) and video recording (observa-
tion) of the child’s interaction with the primary caregiver, and two
sessions in quiet rooms at the kindergarten or school) using paper-
and-pencil tests and video recording. The interviewers were
undergraduate psychology students who had been intensively
trained in the relevant interview techniques.
sharing behavior was measured by using the dictator game, a
sharing task developed in experimental economics . In the
present study, participants had to share six identical stickers
between themselves and another anonymous child of the same age
and gender at T1 and T2. At T3, they shared twelve identical
stickers. For data analysis, proportional scores were created by
computing the number of shared stickers divided by the total
number of stickers.
At all assessment points, children’s sympathy was
assessed by (a) teachers’ ratings, (b) mothers’ ratings, and (c) self-
At T1–T3, the teachers and mothers rated the child’s sympathy
on five items  using a six-point scale. For teacher-rated
At all assessment points, spontaneous
sympathy, Cronbach’s a=.92 at T1, .90 at T2, and .97 at T3. For
mother-rated sympathy, Cronbach’s a=.83 at T1, .85 at T2, and
.88 at T3.
At T1–T3, children rated their sympathy on a scale containing
five items (from ; e.g., ‘‘When I see another child who is hurt
or upset, I feel sorry for him or her’’). The children were asked
whether the sentence was like him/her or not, and, if so, how
much (0=not like him/her; 1=sort of like him/her; 2=like him/her).
Cronbach’s a for the sympathy scale was .67 at T1, .73 at T2, and
.74 at T3.
At all assessment points, children’s social
acceptance was assessed by (a) teachers’ ratings, (b) mothers’
ratings, and (c) self-ratings [50,51,52].
At T1–T3, the teachers and mothers rated the child’s social
acceptance on five items using a six-point scale. The items were
taken from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire and a
questionnaire on peer relations [50,51]. For teacher-rated social
acceptance, Cronbach’s a=.79 at T1, .82 at T2, and .87 at T3.
For mother-rated social acceptance, Cronbach’s a=.75 at T1, .80
at T2, and .72 at T3.
At T1–T3, children rated their social acceptance on six items of
the Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Social Accep-
tance (from ; e.g., ‘‘This boy has friends to play with, and this
boy has no friends to play with. Which boy are you more like?’’).
The children were asked to report which child they were more
like, and the degree to which they were like the child in the picture
(sort of true for me; really true for me). Thus, items were scored on a 4-
point scale. Cronbach’s a for the social acceptance scale was .69 at
T1, .85 at T2, and .60 at T3.
Because the primary caregivers’, teachers’, and children’s
ratings of sympathy were predominantly significantly associated
with each other at each time point, and to reduce the number of
measures and increase reliability , they were averaged into
overall scales labelled ‘‘sympathy at T1’’, ‘‘sympathy at T2’’, and
‘‘sympathy at T3’’. The same was done for the primary
caregivers’, teachers’, and children’s ratings of social acceptance,
and the overall scales were labeled ‘‘social acceptance at T1’’,
‘‘social acceptance at T2’’, and ‘‘social acceptance at T3’’.
The children’s intelligence was mea-
sured at T1 using the ‘‘verbal intelligence’’ section of the German
version of the Hamburg-Wechsler Intelligence Test (HAWIK-III).
Family socioeconomic status.
ground, we coded both the primary caregivers’ and their partners’
highest educational attainment. Responses were coded 1 (primary
or lower secondary education), 2 (vocational training), 3 (voca-
tional college), 4 (baccalaureate degree or higher vocational
diploma), and 5 (university degree). Education scores, which
served as an index of socioeconomic status (SES), were then
computed. Higher scores indicated higher SES.
For socioeconomic back-
The authors would like to express their thanks to the children, parents, and
(kindergarten) teachers for participating in the study. Moreover, the
authors are grateful to all the undergraduate students for their help in data
collection and coding.
Conceived and designed the experiments: TM. Performed the experi-
ments: TM. Analyzed the data: TM MPC. Contributed reagents/
materials/analysis tools: TM MB. Wrote the paper: TM MG MK MPC
Other-Regarding Preferences in Children
PLOS ONE | www.plosone.org6 December 2012 | Volume 7 | Issue 12 | e52017
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