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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Prosocial modeling: A meta-analytic review and synthesis

Jung, H., Seo, E., et al. (2020).
Psychological Bulletin, 146(8), 635–663.

Exposure to prosocial models is commonly used to foster prosocial behavior in various domains of society. The aim of the current article is to apply meta-analytic techniques to synthesize several decades of research on prosocial modeling, and to examine the extent to which prosocial modeling elicits helping behavior. We also identify the theoretical and methodological variables that moderate the prosocial modeling effect. Eighty-eight studies with 25,354 participants found a moderate effect (g = 0.45) of prosocial modeling in eliciting subsequent helping behavior. The prosocial modeling effect generalized across different types of helping behaviors, different targets in need of help, and was robust to experimenter bias. Nevertheless, there was cross-societal variation in the magnitude of the modeling effect, and the magnitude of the prosocial modeling effect was larger when participants were presented with an opportunity to help the model (vs. a third-party) after witnessing the model’s generosity. The prosocial modeling effect was also larger for studies with higher percentage of female in the sample, when other people (vs. participants) benefitted from the model’s prosocial behavior, and when the model was rewarded for helping (vs. was not). We discuss the publication bias in the prosocial modeling literature, limitations of our analyses and identify avenues for future research. We end with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

Impact Statement

Public Significance Statement: This article synthesizes several decades of research on prosocial modeling and shows that witnessing others’ helpful acts encourages prosocial behavior through prosocial goal contagion. The magnitude of the prosocial modeling effect, however, varies across societies, gender and modeling contexts. The prosocial modeling effect is larger when the model is rewarded for helping. These results have important implications for our understanding of why, how, and when the prosocial modeling effect occurs.