Common knowledge that help is needed increases helping behavior in children

Barbora Siposova*, Sebastian Grueneisen, Katharina Helming, Michael Tomasello, Malinda Carpenter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Although there is considerable evidence that at least some helping behavior is motivated by genuine concern for others’ well-being, sometimes we also help solely out of a sense of obligation to the persons in need. Our sense of obligation to help may be particularly strong when there is common knowledge between the helper and the helpee that the helpee needs help. To test whether children’s helping behavior is affected by having common knowledge with the recipient about the recipient’s need, 6-year-olds faced a dilemma: They could either collect stickers or help an experimenter. Children were more likely to help when they and the experimenter had common knowledge about the experimenter’s plight (because they heard it together) than when they each had private knowledge about it (because they heard it individually). These results suggest that already in young children common knowledge can heighten the sense of obligation to help others in need.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104973
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date28 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • Common knowledge
  • Helping
  • Prosociality
  • Obligation
  • Strategic behavior
  • Children


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