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Salivary Bioscience News

Increased altruism in children during distress may benefit from “tend-and-befriend” behavior

Children’s Altruism Following Acute Stress: The Role of Autonomic Nervous System Activity and Social Support

V Alen et al., (2021) Developmental Science

ABSTRACT: Altruistic behavior after stress exposure may have important health and psychological benefits, in addition to broader societal consequences. However, so far experimental research on altruism following acute stress has been limited to adult populations. The current study utilized an experimental design to investigate how altruistic donation behavior among children may be influenced by (1) exposure to an acute social stressor, the Trier Social Stress Test modified for use with children (TSST-M), (2) individual differences in stress physiology, and (3) social support from a parent. The sample consisted of 180 children (54.9% male, 45.1% female; mean age = 9.92 years, SD = 0.56 years) randomly assigned to one of three conditions involving the TSST-M: (1) prepare for the TSST-M alone, (2) prepare for the TSST-M with a parent, and (3) no-stress control group. Results revealed that children made larger donations post-stressor if they were alone before the acute stressor, if they had moderate cardiac autonomic balance, reflecting both parasympathetic and sympathetic influence, and if they were older. Children who prepared for the TSST-M with social support from a parent made comparable donations as children in the no-stress control group, in accord with stress buffering models. Increased altruism following acute stress among children suggests that a comprehensive understanding of the human stress response needs to incorporate “tend-and-befriend” behavior – the tendency for humans to show increased altruistic behavior during times of distress.

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Keywords: saliva, altruistic behavior, trier social stress test, children, “tend-and-befriend behavior”

*Note: Salimetrics provides this information for research use only (RUO). Information is not provided to promote off-label use of medical devices. Please consult the full-text article.

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