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Older adults tend to exhibit more prosocial behavior than younger adults. However, little research has focused on understanding the factors that may explain such differences in the social decision-making process. The first aim was to examine if, and to what degree, the content of social information about a recipient has an impact on young vs. older adults’ prosocial behavior. The second aim was to understand if empathic concern, Theory of Mind, and reasoning explain the (expected) age differences in prosociality.
The study was conducted in northern Italy in a laboratory setting.
Prosocial behavior was measured using the Dictator Game in which participants split a sum of money with recipients presented with four levels of description: no information, physical description, positive psychological description, and negative psychological description. In addition, participants performed tasks on emphatic concern, Theory of Mind, and reasoning.
Results showed that older adults are more prosocial than younger adults in the Dictator Game. This finding was evident when the recipient was described with positive psychological and physical features. This pattern of results was statistically explained by the reduction in reasoning ability.
These findings suggest a relationship between age-related reduction in reasoning ability and older adults’ prosocial behavior. The theoretical and practical implication of the empirical findings are discussed.
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