The Effects of Children and Adolescents in Distress on Altruism: A Stroop Interference Study

Gerardo Rodriguez, Gina R Hernandez, Andrea Burns, Neggin Keshavarzian, Robert Zhang


Altruism has been viewed as a prosocial motivation of which the ultimate goal is to assist others in need of help. However, little is currently known about whether people’s responses to viewing adolescents in distress would be comparable to those for children and infants in distress, particularly in individuals who display altruism. The current study examined the perception of children and adolescents in distress on Stroop interference in 40 undergraduate students with higher versus 38 students with lower levels of altruism. To our knowledge, this is the first research to utilize the Stroop interference procedure to assess altruistic behavior towards children versus adolescents in distress. Participants’ responses (errors) and latency were assessed using a Stroop Interference Task, which involved identifying a colored dot (red, green, yellow, or blue) in a series of four types of images: children distress, adolescents distress, children/adolescent non distress, and color control. The Stroop interference procedure has been extensively used to demonstrate cognitive interference by measuring errors and latency in tasks that require attention to only one of two stimuli. Altruism was assessed using the Self-Report Altruism Scale. A series of t-tests revealed that individuals who displayed higher levels of altruism committed significantly more errors for the condition depicting adolescents in distress (t(76)=-1.72, p=0.04) and children in distress (t(76)=-1.78, p=0.04) compared to their counterparts who displayed lower levels of altruism. However, there were no significant differences between the groups on the number of errors made when viewing children/adolescent non-distress and color control. Furthermore, individuals with higher levels of altruism displayed longer latency for the condition depicting children/adolescents non-distress (t(76)=-2.35, p=0.01) compared to their counterparts. There were no significant group effects in latency for children distress, adolescents distress, and color control. Preliminary findings from this study may potentially increase our understanding of the role adolescents in distress on our cognition and altruistic acts in everyday lives.


Adolescent Distress; Children Distress; Altruism

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