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Prosocial behavior is an important component of social life, as it enables us to help others in distress. Middle childhood marks a period in life where relationships with peers are initiated and developed, and prosocial behavior can be an important component of those newly formed relationships. However, not much is known about possible environmental influences on prosocial behavior and its associated neural responses. Heritability of neural responses to prosocial behavior was previously investigated in a large sample of 7-9 year old twins (N=512), using the four-player Prosocial Cyberball Game. During this game, participants were asked to toss the ball to three other players, before and during a period of observed social exclusion of another player. Results show that participants compensated for the observed exclusion by tossing more balls to the excluded player, thereby engaging in prosocial behavior (van der Meulen et al., 2018). While tossing to the excluded player, participants showed activity in the posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus. In addition, decreased neural activation in bilateral insula while tossing to the excluded player was directly associated with an increase in prosocial behavior, consistent with studies on prosocial behavior in adolescence (Güroğlu et al., 2014). Genetic modelling indicated that variance in prosocial behavior and associated neural activity was not explained well by genetic factors.
To investigate whether environmental factors might have an influence on prosocial behavior and associated neural activity, we used a randomized control trial to test the effect of positive parenting and sensitive discipline on children’s prosocial behavior. In a middle childhood twin sample, 74 families were randomized to the video feedback intervention program (VIPP-SD) with five sessions over the course of 14 weeks. In addition, 140 families were randomized to a control group that received a ‘dummy treatment’ with six phone calls over the course of 14 weeks, to closely follow the time frame and number of contacts of the intervention group. The VIPP-SD program, aimed at improving positive parenting and sensitive discipline, has proven effective in decreasing externalizing and problem behaviors in younger age groups (Juffer, Bakermans-Kranenburg & van IJzendoorn, 2017), but the effects of the program on prosocial behavior in middle childhood have yet to be investigated.
We finished the collection of behavioral and neural pre-intervention data during T1 (N=512, 48% male), and are currently collecting behavioral and neural post-intervention data on T3 (N=412, 47.8% male, during time of submission). On SRCD 2019 we aim to present our initial findings on effects of a positive parenting intervention on prosocial behavior and its associated neural activity, in order to explore possible environmental influences on prosocial behavior in middle childhood.
Mara van der Meulen, Leiden University
Michelle Achterberg, Leiden University
Saskia Euser, Leiden University
Marian J Bakermans-Kranenburg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Marinus H van IJzendoorn, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Eveline Crone, Leiden University