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Refocusing the Lens: Qualitative Insights from Diverse Youth on the Operationalization of Prosocial Behavior

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

In response to well-documented challenges facing minority adolescents, the Positive Youth Development movement has placed increased emphasis on the importance of promoting youth agency (Schwartz et al., 2005). Given one of the primary assumptions underlying PYD ideology is the empowerment and inclusion of youth in their own development, advocates of PYD have proposed “process studies” that consult youth on what they consider to be positive development themselves (Alberts et al., 2006). This is particularly important given the limited investigation directed towards the integration of culturally-relevant factors into commonly identified indicators of positive youth development (Tsang & Yip, 2006; Williams et al., 2014).
Using qualitative methods, the current study applied a youth-centered inductive approach to address the following two research questions: 1) How is prosocial behavior operationalized by members of the target population (children aged 11-15)? and 2) To what extent is the current conceptualization of prosocial behavior generalizable to diverse minority youth? Study participants for eight focus groups were recruited from an already established community-academic partnership with a school district currently in receivership and serving one of the poorest communities in Massachusetts.
To begin, a phenomenological approach was applied to identify essential components of prosocial behavior, as well as the experiences which make them unique or distinguishable for minority youth. In vivo coding and a constant comparative method were then used for analysis. Results yielded 30 types of prosocial behaviors (Table 1). The most obvious concern that arose was the possibility that contemporary research is not addressing the full range of diverse types of prosocial behaviors salient to youth. While, helping, sharing, and caring are commonly included on the instruments available to researchers, acting humorous, standing up for others, being complimentary, expressing gratitude or displaying positive affect are a few of a longer list not typically explicitly captured. Additionally, four notable patterns emerged when organizing data into discrete categories. First, over half the categories appeared conceptually related in that they referenced individual or interpersonal emotion management strategies. Second, upon closer examination of language use, it became evident that participants often relied on describing all the things that were considered not prosocial in order to then identify what would be perceived as prosocial in their peer worlds (e.g., not telling secrets vs. being trustworthy). Third, it became increasingly apparent that the social emotional “vocabulary bank” participants were accessing to share their thoughts and opinions was disproportionately weighted with negatively valence emotions or antisocial behaviors. This lack of familiarity with positive descriptors often led to miscommunication (Figure 1). And finally, the importance of discriminating between prosocial behaviors performed face-to-face versus online was also emphasized.
Although not a frequently applied method with youth, consulting with members of the target population offered an effective way to gain a more in-depth understanding of how focus group participants regarded specific experiences and drew attention to the need to expand the current repertoire of prosocial behaviors to better reflect everyday patterns of behavior that may be overlooked when failing to take into account cultural influence.

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