Predictors of compassionate and polite prosocial behavior: Moral reasoning, relaxation, self -reflection, and spirituality

Katherine R. B Jankowski, Fordham University


Recent public opinion polls have indicated that Americans feel there is less civility and prosocial behavior today in this country than in the past. To understand what predicts prosocial behavior so as to understand how to promote it, this study examined predictors of prosocial behaviors based on the work of Colby and Damon (1992) and Oliner and Oliner (1988). These researchers studied exemplary prosocial individuals who behaved in a prosocial manner that involved significant personal effort and commitment. Psychological characteristics found consistently in these people included strong commitments to personal, authoritative, or moral principles and a strong sense of empathy and connection with those they had helped. A previous pilot study (Jankowski & Higgins-D'Alessandro, 2003) had found that spiritual feelings, moral reasoning and time spent in relaxation predicted more frequent compassionate prosocial behaviors as listed on the Self-report Altruism Scale (SRA; Rushton, Chrisjohn, & Fekken, 1981). The current study found support for the division of the SRA scale into two subscales of compassionate and polite prosocial behaviors based on item correlations with moral reasoning as determined in the pilot study. In this study, spiritual transcendence, quiet relaxation time, self-reflection during relaxation and gender all predicted compassionate prosocial behaviors in a multiple regression. Polite prosocial behaviors were predicted by income and quiet relaxation time. Moral reasoning scores in this study were not significantly related to prosocial behaviors, although prosocial behaviors did increase slightly across three consecutively higher moral reasoning stages. These findings identify the importance of the following in understanding and promoting prosocial behaviors in adults: a perception of a universal connection to others, an understanding and appreciation of a reality that is greater than the one that is seen, and quiet relaxation time where these perceptions and understandings can be reflected upon and coalesce. The demographic characteristics of this current sample call for some caution when generalizing the findings of this study to other populations, as it was mainly comprised of community dwelling adults who had higher yearly incomes and educational levels than adults in the general population. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Cognitive psychology|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Jankowski, Katherine R. B, "Predictors of compassionate and polite prosocial behavior: Moral reasoning, relaxation, self -reflection, and spirituality" (2005). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3169384.