The Salience of Children Increases Adult Prosocial Values

Lukas Wolf, Sapphira Thorne, Marina Iosifian, Colin Foad, Samuel Taylor, Vlad Costin, Johan Karremans, Geoffrey Haddock, Gregory Maio

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Organisations often put children front and centre in campaigns to elicit interest and support for prosocial causes. Such initiatives raise a key theoretical and applied question that has yet to be addressed directly: Does the salience of children increase prosocial motivation and behaviour in adults? We present findings aggregated across eight experiments involving 2,054 adult participants: Prosocial values became more important after completing tasks that made children salient compared to tasks that made adults (or a mundane event) salient or compared to a no-task baseline. An additional field study showed that adults were more likely to donate money to a child-unrelated cause when children were more salient on a shopping street. The findings suggest broad, reliable interconnections between human mental representations of children and prosocial motives, as the child salience effect was not moderated by participants’ gender, age, attitudes, or contact with children.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Publication statusAcceptance date - 26 Feb 2021

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