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Parental Discipline and Children’s Prosocial Behavior

CITATION:  Knafo, A., Plomin, R.  (2006)  Parental Discipline and Affection and Children’s Prosocial Behavior:  Genetic and Environmental Links.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 90, No. 1, 147–164.

ABSTRACT:  The importance of prosocial behavior, that is, behavior intended to benefit others (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998), makes it a major socialization goal for many parents. The relationship between parenting and children’s prosocial behavior has been studied extensively (e.g., Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998; Grusec, Davidov, & Lundell, 2002). Parents’ warmth and their use of reasoning, induction, and autonomy support as opposed to power-assertive discipline are related to children’s empathy and prosocial behavior (Clark & Ladd, 2000; Krevans & Gibbs, 1996). The obvious explanation for these findings is that positive parenting makes children more prosocial, for example, by providing a prosocial model for them. However, another possibility is that the correlational effects attributed to parenting may represent in part the reaction of parents’ to children’s partially genetically influenced prosocial behavior (i.e., an evocative gene– environment correlation; Plomin, DeFries, & Loehlin, 1977). For example, warm parents may share with their children a genetic tendency for prosocial behavior. The purpose of this study is to investigate these possibilities. Specifically, we study the genetic and environmental contributions to the relationships between parenting and children’s prosocial behavior using a twin design. The following section reviews the extensive literature showing phenotypic relationships between parenting and prosocial behavior, and the next section addresses the possibility of genetic mediation of these relationships.

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