Prosocial norms as a positive youth development construct : a conceptual review

Tan Lei Shek, Man Hong Andrew Siu, B.M.F. Law

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Prosocial norms like reciprocity, social responsibility, altruism, and volunteerism are ethical standards and beliefs that youth development programs often want to promote. This paper reviews evolutionary, social-cognitive, and developmental theories of prosocial development, and analyze how young people learn and adopt prosocial norms. The review showed that very few current theories explicitly address the issue of how prosocial norms, in form of feelings of moral obligations, may be challenged by a norm of self-interest and social circumstances, when prosocial acts are needed. It is necessary to develop theories which put prosocial norms as a central construct, and a new social cognitive theory of norm activation has the potential to help us understand how prosocial norms may be applied. This review also highlights how little we know about young people perceive and receive prosocial norms, and how influential of school policies and peer influence on the prosocial development. Lastly, while training of interpersonal competence (e.g. empathy, moral reasoning, etc.) was commonly used in the youth development, their effectiveness was not systematically evaluated. It will also be interesting to examine how computer and information technology or video games may be used in e-learning of prosocial norms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-27
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of alternative medicine research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Prosocial norms
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Chinese


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