The Need to Contribute During Adolescence

Perspect Psychol Sci. 2019 May;14(3):331-343. doi: 10.1177/1745691618805437. Epub 2018 Dec 18.


As an intensely social species, humans demonstrate the propensity to contribute to other individuals and groups by providing support, resources, or helping to achieve a shared goal. Accumulating evidence suggests that contribution benefits the givers as well as the receivers. The need to contribute during adolescence, however, has been underappreciated compared with more individually focused psychological or social developmental needs. The need is particularly significant during the teenage years, when children's social world expands and they become increasingly capable of making contributions of consequence. Moreover, contribution can both promote and be a key element of traditionally conceived fundamental needs of the adolescent period such as autonomy, identity, and intimacy. The neural and biological foundations of the adolescent need to contribute, as well as the ways in which social environments meet that need, are discussed. A scientific and practical investment in contribution would synergize with other recent efforts to reframe thinking about the adolescent period, providing potential returns to the field as well as to youths and their communities.

Keywords: adolescence; contribution; development; interpersonal relations; others; positive psychology; prosociality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / physiology
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Social Behavior*