Helping yourself helps others: Linking children's emotion regulation to prosocial behavior through sympathy and trust

Ju Hyun Song, Tyler Colasante, Tina Malti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Although emotionally well-regulated children are more likely to behave prosocially, the psychological processes that connect their emotion regulation abilities and prosocial behavior are less clear. We tested if other-oriented sympathy and trust mediated the links between emotion regulation capacities (i.e., resting respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA], negative emotional intensity, and sadness regulation) and prosocial behavior in an ethnically diverse sample of 4- and 8-year-olds (N = 131; 49% girls). Resting RSA was calculated from children's electrocardiogram data in response to a nondescript video. Sympathy was child and caregiver reported, whereas negative emotional intensity, sadness regulation, trust, and prosocial behavior were caregiver reported. Regardless of age, higher resting RSA was linked to higher sympathy, which was associated with higher prosocial behavior. The positive link between sadness regulation and prosocial behavior was mediated by higher sympathy and trust. Children's other-oriented psychological processes may play important roles in translating certain emotion regulation capacities into prosocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-527
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The authors thank the children and caregivers who participated, and the members of the Laboratory for Social-Emotional Development and Intervention who helped with data collection and processing.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 American Psychological Association.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


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