Prosocial Behavior Increases with Age across Five Economic Games

PLoS One. 2016 Jul 14;11(7):e0158671. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0158671. eCollection 2016.


Ontogenic studies of human prosociality generally agree on that human prosociality increases from early childhood through early adulthood; however, it has not been established if prosociality increases beyond early adulthood. We examined a sample of 408 non-student residents from Tokyo, Japan, who were evenly distributed across age (20-59) and sex. Participants played five economic games each separated by a few months. We demonstrated that prosocial behavior increased with age beyond early adulthood and this effect was shown across all five economic games. A similar, but weaker, age-related trend was found in one of three social value orientation measures of prosocial preferences. We measured participants' belief that manipulating others is a wise strategy for social success, and found that this belief declined with age. Participants' satisfaction with the unilateral exploitation outcome of the prisoner's dilemma games also declined with age. These two factors-satisfaction with the DC outcome in the prisoner's dilemma games and belief in manipulation-mediated the age effect on both attitudinal and behavioral prosociality. Participants' age-related socio-demographic traits such as marriage, having children, and owning a house weakly mediated the age effect on prosociality through their relationships with satisfaction with the DC outcome and belief in manipulation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Female
  • Games, Experimental*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

23223003 and 15H05730, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.