The salience of children increases adult prosocial values

Lukas J. Wolf, Sapphira R. Thorne, Marina Iosifyan, Colin Foad, Samuel Taylor, Vlad Costin, Johan C. Karremans, Geoffrey Haddock, Gregory R. 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
Pages (from-to)160-169
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number1
Early online date16 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was supported by Economic and Social Research Council (grant ID: ES/P002463/1).

Data availability statement:
The study materials and data (including explanations and syntax) described in this article will be publicly available under 10.17605/OSF.IO/VFQA7 upon publication.


  • children
  • donation behavior
  • human values
  • infants
  • prosocial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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