Prosocial and Aggressive Behavior:
A Longitudinal Study

Volume 86, Issue 2, Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development

By Dale F. Hay, Amy L. Paine, Oliver Perra, Kaye V. Cook, Salim Hashmi, Charlotte Robinson, Victoria Kairis, and Rhiannon Slade

Included in this issue:


Developmental scientists have only rarely studied the development of prosocial and aggressive behaviors in the same sample. In this monograph, Dale Hay and colleagues traced parallel pathways of both behaviors by using longitudinal data collected in Wales between 2005 and 2015 from 321 volunteer parents and their firstborn children. Families were about evenly divided between middle- and working-class; almost all reported themselves as Welsh, Scottish, English, or Irish. Children’s social behavior was studied at 6 months and at approximately 1, 1.5, 2.5, and 7 years. Measures included direct observation, parents’ and teachers’ responses to questionnaires, experimental tasks, and a clinical interview. At young ages, prosocial and aggressive behaviors were positively associated, later became unrelated, and still later, became negatively correlated. Prosocial behavior occurred more often than aggressive behavior at all ages, but a pattern of angry aggressiveness in infancy predicted aggressive behavioral problems at 2.5 and 7 years. The authors note that testing the replicability and generalizability of the current findings will require conducting additional research in a broader range of family and environmental contexts.

About the Authors



Overview: Prosocial and Aggressive Behavior: A Longitudinal Study
How do children’s prosocial behavior and aggressive behavior change across early childhood? SRCD Monograph author Dale Hay provides an overview of her collaborative, longitudinal project on the development of these behaviors from infancy to 7 years.

Origins of Research on Prosocial and Aggressive Behavior
How did Hay et al. become intrigued by the complexity of infant social interaction?

Examining Prosocial and Aggressive Behavior Together
Children show prosocial and aggressive behavior early in development but little is known about how these social engagement behaviors relate to one another over time.

Educational and Clinical Applications
How can research from the Hay et al. monograph be applied to help children who struggle with anger and self-control?

Community Impact from Findings
How can developmentalists use basic research to provide support and education to families with young children?

Teaching and Research Resources