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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Older adults across the globe exhibit increased prosocial behavior but also greater in-group preferences

Cutler, J., Nitschke, J.P., Lamm, C. et al. 
Nat Aging 1, 880–888 (2021).


Population aging is a global phenomenon with substantial implications across society. Prosocial behaviors—actions that benefit others—promote mental and physical health across the lifespan and can save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. We examined whether age predicts prosociality in a preregistered global study (46,576 people aged 18–99 across 67 countries) using two acutely relevant measures: distancing during COVID-19 and willingness to donate to hypothetical charities. Age positively predicted prosociality on both measures, with increased distancing and donations among older adults. However, older adults were more in-group focused than younger adults in choosing who to help, making larger donations to national over international charities and reporting increased in-group preferences. In-group preferences helped explain greater national over international donations. Results were robust to several control analyses and internal replication. Our findings have vital implications for predicting the social and economic impacts of aging populations, increasing compliance with public health measures and encouraging charitable donations.


Prosocial behaviors have critical individual and societal impacts. Emerging evidence suggests that older adults might be more prosocial than younger adults on measures including economic games learning about rewards for others, effortful actions and charitable donations. In line with this, theoretical accounts of lifespan development, such as socioemotional selectivity theory, propose that motivation for socially and emotionally meaningful behaviors increases as a result of age-related differences in goals and priorities. However, most research has tested participants from western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic populations. It is unknown whether increased prosociality is shown by older adults across the world. Moreover, although some studies point to increased prosocial behavior, others find no association or even heightened negative behaviors, including greater bias toward one’s own emotions, increased stereotyping of outgroups and less support for foreign aid. Together these findings suggest that age might be associated with both increased positive helping behaviors but also heightened self-serving and in-group preferences.