Asking Children to “Be Helpers” Can Backfire After Setbacks

Emily Foster-Hanson, Andrei Cimpian, Rachel A. Leshin, Marjorie Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Describing behaviors as reflecting categories (e.g., asking children to “be helpers”) has been found to increase pro-social behavior. The present studies (N = 139, ages 4–5) tested whether such effects backfire if children experience setbacks while performing category-relevant actions. In Study 1, children were asked either to “be helpers” or “to help,” and then pretended to complete a series of successful scenarios (e.g., pouring milk) and unsuccessful scenarios (e.g., spilling milk while trying to pour). After the unsuccessful trials, children asked to “be helpers” had more negative attitudes. In Study 2, asking children to “be helpers” impeded children's helping behavior after they experienced difficulties while trying to help. Implications for how category labels shape beliefs and behavior are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-248
Number of pages13
JournalChild development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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