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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Nasim Tavassoli, Education

To be or not to be Prosocial: Judgments and Experiences of Prosocial Action and Refusal Across Development

Wednesday, May 11, 2022 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


As social beings, individuals regularly encounter multifaceted social situations wherein, for variety of reasons, they decide to help others or not. Although inevitable, prosocial refusal experiences are overlooked in the prosocial development literature. In two studies, the role of prosocial refusal experiences in the development of prosociality was investigated through analyses of reasoning, emotional and moral evaluations, and prosocial decision making. Study 1 examined how contextual factors influenced prosocial judgments in costly helping, sharing, and comforting situations. A total of 165 children and adolescents evaluated six hypothetical situations wherein one child needed to be helped, shared with, or comforted and another child decided whether to provide that assistance. Prosociality was evaluated as desirable-obligatory particularly in high need situations. Children more than adolescents evaluated prosociality as desirable. In high need situations, comforting more than helping and sharing was evaluated as desirable, whereas in low need situations, sharing was the most desirable form of prosociality. To complement analyses of hypothetical vignettes, Study 2 investigated children’s, adolescents’ and young adults’ reflections on past prosocial experiences (N participants = 253; N experiences = 990); participants each recounted experiences of helping and not helping when they were glad or regretful. Developmental changes and contextual variations in prosocial (refusal) reasoning, emotional and moral evaluations, and prosocial decision making were assessed. Participants’ reasons for prosocial actions and refusals varied across age groups and event types. To explain why they were glad or regretful of their prosocial choices, participants used other-oriented reasons to evaluate prototypical experiences (e.g., helping/glad), and self-oriented reasons for non-prototypical experiences (e.g., helping/regret). Moral reasons were used to explain why prosocial engagements and refusals were both right or wrong. Non-prototypical prosocial experiences were reported to prevent future prosociality. The results of Study 2 broadened our understanding of prosocial refusal experiences, emphasized the importance of interpersonal and intrapersonal regret in evaluating prosocial choices, and revealed that not all prosocial decisions have moral roots. Overall, this dissertation contributed to the growing literature on prosocial refusal experiences by highlighting the context-specificity of prosocial judgments and shed light on how refusal experiences are relevant to prosocial development.

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