2010. Vol.1, No.5, 377-385
Copyright © 2010 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2010.15047
An Exploratory Study of Altruism in Greek Children: Relations
with Empathy, Resilience and Classroom Climate
Sophie Leontopoulou
Department of Primary Education, University of Ioannina, Ioannina, Greece.
Received September 19th, 2010; revised Septe m ber 24th, 2010; accepted Septemb er 27th, 2010.
The aims of this exploratory study were two-fold: a. to identify any relations between children’s altruism and a
set of demographic and other personal and social characteristics of Greek children, such as empathy, resilience
and classroom climate; and b. to examine the psychometric properties of a newly-developed measure of altruis-
tic behavior in children, namely the Altruistic Behavior Questionnaire (ABQ). 232 male and female students of
the 5th and 6th class of Primary School in Northern Greece participated in this study. The ABQ was found to have
adequate internal consistency and concurrent and construct validity. Using a hierarchical regression analysis, al-
truism in children was found to be reliably predicted by participants’ gender and academic performance, by em-
pathy and also by resilience; nevertheless, the more socially determined variable of classroom climate only mar-
ginally predicted altruism. The importance of including training in the development and manifestation of altru-
ism in emotional education programmes and resilience interventions at school is highlighted.
Keywords: Altruism, Empathy, Resilience, Classroom Climate, Children, Gender Differences
The present study1 deals with an important, albeit little in-
vestigated topic, that of the measurement, development and
study of altruism in children. The aim of this exploratory study
is two-fold. Primarily, it seeks to map the largely uncharted
area of altruistic behavior in Greek pre-adolescent children,
from the standpoint of the emergent positive psychology. Se-
condly, it tries to address the increased emphasis on the need
for low-cost, well-tested measures related to children’s devel-
opment, by way of constructing a new scale of altruism for
children. In the following sections a review of altruism and
prosocial behavior in children will set the scene for the exami-
nation of other constructs, both individual and social in nature,
which could be argued to be related to altruism, such as empa-
thy and resilience, but also classroom climate.
Altruism and Prosocial BEHAVIOR in Children
The term “prosocial behavior”, coined by Wispé (1972) in
contrast to “antisocial behavior”, covers a range of actions with
positive connotations, such as altruism, helping behavior and
cooperation. Piliavin and her colleagues (1981) described
prosocial behavior as a broad category of actions “defined by
society as generally beneficial to other people and to the ongo-
ing political system” (p. 4). The philosopher August Comte was
the first to coin the term “altruism” as a contrast to “egoism”
([1851] 1975). In recent times, altruism has been treated largely
as a category of prosocial be havior, signifying either a particu-
lar type of helping “carried out to benefit another without
anticipation of rewards from external sources” (Macaulay &
Berkowitz, 1970); or a type of motivation, be it egoistic or al-
truistic in nature (Batson, 1991). Eisenberg and Mussen (1997)
used the two terms interchangeably, while making a distinction
between the two. For them, prosocial behavior is defined as
actions intended to help or benefit other people or groups of
people, independent of one’s motives; altruism, on the other
hand, refers to actions intended to help others, but which are
characterized by purely internal motives, such as sympathy and
self-esteem, as opposed to external motives, such as personal
gain and reciprocation. Warneken and Tomasello (2009) pro-
posed a typology of prosocial behavior, comprising four ele-
ments: comforting (i. e. , providing emotional support to others),
sharing (i .e., giving food or objects to others), informing (i.e.,
providing useful information for others) and instrumental help-
ing (i.e., acting on behalf of others’ goals). Kakavoulis (1998)
proposed a similar four-fold typology of altruism, i.e. , sharing,
helping, cooperating and comforting, upon which the develop-
ment of the Altruistic Behavior Questionnaire (ABQ), a scale
constructed specifically for the needs of this study, was based
(see pp. 380).
In recent years there has been some discussion as to the roots
of human altruism. Warneken and Tomasello (2009) claimed
that altruistic tendencies “reflect a natural predisposition. So-
cialization can build upon this predisposition, but it is not its
primary source. Human cultures cultivate rather than implant
altruism in the human psyche” (p. 465). This natural predispo-
sition does not necessarily contradict the Darwinian concept of
natural selection; rather, it refines it by suggesting that me-
chanisms such as kin selection, reciprocal altruism and group
selection facilitate the emergence of acts of altruism (Piliavin,
2009). Furthermore, human beings are pluralistically motivated,
meaning that they can be motivated by altruism, by self-interest,
or by a combination of the two (Sober & Wilson, 1998).
Parts of this paper (such as data collection and initial description of the
ABQ) are based on the undergraduate thesis of An. Magaki, S. Serifis
and V. Goula, completed under my supervision.
Hay (2009) reported that toddlers often exhibit helping and
sharing behaviors toward others at higher rates than aggressive
behavior . He suggested that, while prosocial behavior occurs
early in life and is underpinned by biological factors, it should
nevertheless be examined taking into consideration the indi-
vidual characteristics of infants and of the situational context
within which the episodes of prosocial behavior take place. He
argued that “selective pressures in human evolution have fa-
voured sociability, which could lead to aggression or altruism,
depending on context and the nature of the rearing environment.
Any social behavior shown in infancy may have multiple func-
tions, at phylogenetic, ontogenetic and episodic levels of analy-
sis” (p. 473).
Research carried out with older children has revealed that
prosocial behavior is affected by a number of factors, such as
their altruistic predisposition, which, according to Eisenberg
(1992) allows children to be happier, express their emotions
more freely, be more sociable, enjoy higher self-esteem and be
better adjusted to their environment; also, their emotional state,
cognitive development, empathy and sympathy, and under-
standing of the reasons for someone’s misery. In any event, age
seems to differentiate the manifestation of altruism in children,
in terms of both number and complexity of altruistic acts
(Ra dke-Yarrow, Zahn-Waxler, & Chapman, 1983). Helping
behavior tends to augment around age eight for children, only
to drop later and rise again during childhood. Midlarsky and
Hannah (1985) interviewed children and adolescents and found
that younger children often hold back from offering help, only
because they feel awkward or unable to help. On the other hand,
when pre-adolescents and adolescents refrain from offering
help, they do so out of fear that their offer will be rejected, or
that the person at the receiving end will feel awkward.
Research has also shown that altruism is mostly manifested
toward individuals of the same gender, ethnicity and idiosyn-
crasy (Kakavoulis, 1997). However, there is mixed evidence as
to the effects of gender, socio-economic status and family size
on altruism. Radke-Yarrow and her colleagues (1983) have
shown that girls tend to exhibit altruistic behavior slightly more
often than boys, but not significantly so. Differing socialization
processes and social expectations regarding the characteristics,
behavior s and roles of women and men can go some way to-
ward explaining such differences, if indeed they exist (Kaka-
voulis, 1999). As far as the relation of socio-economic status
with altruism is concerned, research has either failed to identify
any significant differences or has generated mixed results. This
conflicting evidence can be attributed to either the different
childrearing practices followed by parents from different so-
ci o-economic backgrounds, or to the research design and me-
thods used to study the phenomena at hand (Kakavoulis, 1999).
Research is also inconclusive as to the influence of family size
on altruism. Some researchers report that children raised in
families with many children tended to be more generous and
share their belongings without expecting something in return.
Other researchers, however, maintain that a smaller number of
siblings were positively related to helping behavior in an emer-
gency. They attributed this finding to these children enjoying
higher levels of self-esteem and taking the initiative more rea-
dily (Staub, 1971). One of the aims of the present study was to
explore the effects of demographic factors on altru ism.
Altruism and Empathy
There seems to be widespread agreement that the mediating,
intervening process that allows people to help others altruisti-
cally, i.e. without expecting rewards or avoiding punishment, is
empathy (Batson, 1991; Hoffman, 1981). Hoffman (2000) de-
fined empathy as “an affective response more appropriate to
another’s situation than one’s own” (p. 4). Empathy comprises
not only emotional aspects but also cognitive elements, such as
perspective taking and causal attribution. Hoffman maintained
that empathy and concern for others are what make social life
possible, even though he recognized the inevitable conflict
between self-interest and social obligations (Eisenberg, & Mor-
ris, 2001). According to Piliavin (2009), “the brain is wired for
empathy and other-oriented action and the hormone system
contributes to this disposition” (p. 215). Moreover, altruism and
empathy can be trained in both children and adults, since one
can develop new role identities throughout life, “some of which
can be altruistic in nature, through a process of identity devel-
opment aided by the expectations held by others” (p. 216).
Stalikas and Hamodraka (2004) recognized that children who
perceive someone’s pain or sadness may display empathy and
may take steps to comfort them. In this respect empathy is con-
sidered the precursor of moral development. Research has
shown that children who display greater empathy toward others
are less aggressive, are more prone to help others and develop a
more positive type of moral judgment. Empathy develops in
stages during infancy and childhood and its manifestations are
largely affected by the quality of the relationship between the
child and the person in difficulty, as well as by one’s motiva-
tion to help, as suggested by Hoffman (2000). Hoffman argued
that empathy is an important motivator of prosocial behavior in
children and adults alike. Nevertheless, research has revealed
differentiated empathic responses between the two: unlike
adults, children who tend to experience more negative emotions
also exhibit lower levels of empathy and sympathy, possibly
due to their tendency to experience negative emotions intensely
(Eisenberg & Morris, 2001). In addition, children who are more
able to regulate their attention and behavior also tend to be
more empathic. Eisenberg and Morris (2001) reported that,
among elementary school children, regulation interacts with
their dispositional emotionality to predict empathy, thus facili-
tating the selection of those children who would benefit more
from specific interventions at school teaching emotion regula-
tion strategies. The authors also suggested that, according to
Hoffman, genetic factors contribute to individual differences in
proneness to experience empathy; however, environmental
factors, especially socialization processes, also contribute to
individual differences in children’s empathy and distress, such
as discipline and general parenting style, as well as parental
e m otion-related practices. One of the aims of the present study
was to explore the interconnections between altruism and resi-
lience in children.
Altruism and Resilience
To the best of our knowledge, the relationship between altru-
ism and resilience, defined as good adaptation despite risk and
adversity, has not been studied as yet. Kakavoulis (1999) re-
viewed research evidence that unearthed links between child-
ren’s altruistic behavior and their social and emotional adapta-
tion, as indexed by the construct of ego resilience, a construct
different to those of resilience (defined as the ability to modify
one’s level of ego control, or the degree and kind of control one
exerts over one’s impulses; see Block 1993), self-regulation
and popularity. Long and Lerner (1974) reported results from a
longitudinal study which showed that children who tended to
help, cooperated well with others, were interested in moral
issues and were kind to other children also scored highly on
indices of ego resiliency and self-regulation of their behavior
(i.e., ability to postpone immediate satisfaction). McGuire and
Weisz (1982) reported findings which showed that children
who helped others, were more interested in others and contri-
buted generously to fundraising, were rated by their teachers as
being more able to interact with other children, were more pop-
ular and made close friends. This study aimed to examine
children’s altruistic behavi or in relation to their levels of resi-
Altruism and Classroom Climate
Social learning theory holds that prosocial behavior in child-
ren is built on the basis of the moral standards available in their
environment. Children tend to imitate the behavior of role
models in their world, especially parents, siblings and school-
teachers. Research has shown that the more children observe
someone engaging in prosocial beha viors, the more they tend to
share their belongings and help others (Radke Yarrow, &
Zahn - Waxier, 1986). As the school is irrefutably a context of
vital importance for the socialization of children, it can play a
key role in building, exercising and maintaining a range of
prosocial behaviors in children too. The school climate is the
frame that allows for the development of healthy prosocial
interactions between children and adults involved in the educa-
tional process. The terms classroom climate and educational
atmosphere (coined by Bollnow, 1970) are used interchangea-
bly to indicate the special conditions that need to exist in the
classroom and in the school in order for education and learning
to take place. The terms include those interpersonal relations
between teachers and students that have emotional connotations,
as well as the relations between students, which affect their
learning and behavior alike and can shape the development of
their personality (
According to Rutter (2000), a number of studies with nation-
al and international samples, both cross-sectional and longitu-
dinal in nature, showed that the classroom climate seriously
affects students’ well-being, academic performance and em-
ployment rates. Altruism is often reported in research to coun-
teract aggression, bullying and victimization. For instance,
Sutton and Keogh’s (2000) results suggested that a competitive
classroom climate may lead to higher levels of aggression. On
the other hand, positive peer relations and networks were prov-
en to provide support to withstand emotional difficulties and
cope with them effectively, to help students sustain their aca-
demic efforts and to give comfort to others in need (Stanton -
Salazar & Spina, 2005). Scho ol-based programs for the devel-
opment of prosocial behavior in children are often based on
encouraging cooperation among students. Cooperative learning
at school is known to affect students’ perceptions of support,
help and friendship and acceptance of diversity (Johnson, &
Johnson, 1983). One of the main aims of this study was to ex-
plore how different dimensions of the classroom climate affect
children’s altruism.
Aims of the Study and Research Hypotheses
This largely exploratory study suggests that the investigation
of altruism needs to be set within the general framework of
positive psychology, so that it can be examined under a new
conceptual light. The discipline of positive psychology, as de-
fined by its founder Seligman, is “the scientific study of posi-
tive experiences and positive individual traits, and the institu-
tions that facilitate their development” (http://americanhuman- It includes
the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and
positive institutions (http: //
edu/Default.aspx#). Positive emotions can help people be con-
tented with the past, happy in the present and hopeful for the
future. Positive character traits, defined by Seligman as
s trengths and virtues, such as resilience, creativity and integrity,
can aid both younger and older individuals to overcome stress
and difficulty. Positive institutions can foster better communi-
ties that are characterized by justice, responsibility and a sense
of meaning in society at large (Piliavin, 2009). Altruism, when
seen in this light, can be linked to favourable mental and phys-
ical health outcomes in adversity. Any attempt to shed some
light on the factors and mechanisms involved in the develop-
ment and manifestation of altruism, either individual or social
in nature, such as empathy, self-esteem, resilience or classroom
climate, can provide useful guidelines for the development of
training programs and successful interventions at home, at
school and in the community.
There is very little empirical support of the ways that altru-
ism relates to and is affected by a set of positive personal and
social characteristics in Greek children. Different types of al-
truistic acts that fall into the four broad categories of prosocial
behavior presented above, i .e., sharing, helping, cooperating
and comforting, need to be examined for their interconnections
with positive aspects of human development within a Greek
s oc io -cultural framework. Based on the above, the aims of the
present study were shaped as follows. Firstly, the study aimed
to examine any effects of demographic variables, such as age,
gender, socio-economic status and family size, as well as aca-
demic performance, on children’s altruism. Secondly, its object
was to investigate whether altruism is connected to and influ-
enced by: a. personal characteristics of children, such as empa-
thy, but also resilience, a concept which includes the study of
the effects of adversity on adaptation, thus opening new direc-
tions in the study of altruism and prosocial behavior; and b.
characteristics of children’s social environment, such as the
school climate. Thirdly, the present study had a methodological
focus, which consisted in developing and measuring the psy-
chometric properties of a new scale of altruistic beha vior, the
Altruistic Behavior Questionnaire (ABQ; see p. 8 below for
details) in a sample of Greek children on the threshold of ado-
lescence. This questionnaire was constructed in response to the
absence of a measure of prosocial behavior developed for and
based on the particular altruistic be haviors and acts demon-
strated by Greek children.
Met ho d
Two hundred and thirty two males (52.6%) and females
(47.4%) in the 5th (47.8%) and 6th (52.2%) class of Primary
Schools at the city of Ioannina in Northwestern Greece partici-
pated in this study. Most students came from average socio-
economic status homes (62.1%), while 23.7% came from high-
er and 14.2% from lower socio-economic status homes. 91.8%
had at least one other sibling, and 8.2% were only children.
93.1% of the sample consisted of Greek students born and
raised in Greece, 3.4% of Greek students raised abroad, and 3%
were European students. Most students’ grades in the courses of
Greek Language and Mathematics, the courses considered cen-
tral to the Greek education system, were good: 55.4% in Lan-
guage and 50.9% in Mathematics received top grades (10/10);
32.8% and 33.2% received very good grades (9/10); and 11.6%
and 15.9% received good grades (8/10), revealing patterns typ-
ically found in Greek schools.
After initial contacts with the school principals and course
teachers, permission was granted to administer the question-
naire battery to students during school hours to fill in. Once
parental permission was obtained, students were briefed prior to
answering the questionnaire as to the main aim of the study and
what would be required of them, and were also reassured re-
garding anonymity. Completion time was about one academic
hour, during which researchers and the course teachers were
present and available for clarifications.
Demographic information on participants was gathered using
a number of questions on students’ class at school, gender, socio-
economic status, origin and grades in the lessons of Greek
Language and Mathematics, which are considered the two main
lessons in Greek Primary Schools.
The Altruistic Behavior Questionnaire (ABQ; E rotimatolo-
gio Altrouistikis Symperiforas, EAS) was constructed to meas-
ure children’s altruistic be havior (see Appendix 1). Twenty
questions were developed based on the work of Kakavoulis
(1999) and the four dimensions of altruism he identified as key
concepts, i.e. sharing, helping, cooperating and comforting.
Based on his categorization of acts of altruism, five actions
falling into each category were selected from a longer list of
altruistic actions that Greek parents reported they had observed
their children perform (as described in Kakavoulis, 1999, p. 138)
and subsequently turned into questions, which were used in the
final questionnaire. For instance, the action “He/she intervenes
in order to settle a dispute” was rephrased as “Do you help two
classmates of yours to reconcile when you see them having an
a rgu ment?”; the action “He/she keeps a place to offer it to
s omeone” was rephrased as “Do you offer your seat to someone
older at a school function?” The questions were rated on a
four-point Likert-type scale (i.e., almost never, sometimes,
most of the time, always). All questions were positively
phrased, so that a higher score on the scale indicated higher
altruistic behavior. Cronbach’s α for the whole scale was satis-
fying, α = .78 (the values for each item ranged from α = .75 to α
= .80). A pilot test was conducted prior to including the final
questionnaire to this study’s questionnaire battery for comple-
tion at school. No changes were made to the scale, however, as
children were presented with no difficulties as far as phrasing
and comprehension were concerned.
An Index of Empathy for Children and Adolescents (Bryant,
1982). Based on A Μeasure of Εmotional Εmpathy, Mehrabian
& Epstein, 1972. Greek translation by Tsitsas) was used to
index empathy in our study. The scale consists of 22 items,
answered by “yes” or “no”. A high score indicates higher empathy.
Sample items include “It makes me sad to see a girl who can’t find
anyone to play with” and “It’s hard for me to see why someone
else gets upset”. Cronbach’s α for our sample was α = 0.52.
Wagnild and Young’s (1993) Resilience Scale, as modified
by Neill and Dias (2001; Greek translation by Leontopoulou)
was used to measure resilience. This 15-item Likert-type scale
is scored on a 7-point agree-disagree scale (1 = agree, 7 = dis-
agree). All questions are positively phrased so that a high score
on the scale suggests higher resilience. Sample questions in-
clude “When I make plans I follow through with them” and “I
keep interested in things”. The initial authors report that the
scale has concurrent validity with regards other scales of mo-
rale, life satisfaction and depression, while Neill and Dias
(2001) report Cronbach’s α = .91. Reliability in the Greek sam-
ple was α = 0.73.
My Class Inventory (MCI; Fraser, Anderson and Walberg,
1982. Greek translation and adaptation by Matsagouras, 2000)
scale was used to index students’ perceived classroom climate.
The scale consists of 25 items which are answered by either
“yes” or “no”. MCI assesses five elements which are indicative
of the whole psychological climate in the classroom at Primary
School. It comprises the following subscales: a. satisfaction (for
our sample Cronbach’s α was α = .66); b. friction (α = .69); c.
competitiveness (α = .51); d. difficulty (α =.72); and e. cohe-
siveness (α = .67).
Means, standard deviations and correlations among the study
variables are shown in Table 1, p. 381. Altruism was signifi-
cantly and positively correlated with empathy and resilience (r
= .35, p < .001; and r = .46, p < .001, respectively). Empathy
was also positively correlated with resilience (r = .17, p < .01)
and with the satisfaction subscale of the classroom climate
variable (r = .24, p < .01), suggesting that empathy is related to
a satisfying classroom climate. Reversely, empathy was nega-
tively related with both subscales of the classroom climate
which have negative connotations, namely friction (r = .14, p
< .05) and competitiveness (r = .16, p < .05). A similar picture
emerged for resilience, which was positively correlated with the
positive aspects of the classroom climate, i.e., satisfaction (r
= .16, p < .05) and cohesiveness (r = .13, p < .05), and was
negatively correlated with the negative aspect of friction (r =
.15 p < .05).
Since moderate, but significant positive correlations were
found between altruism, empathy and resilience, further ana-
lyses were carried out to determine whether these measures are
conceptual ly distinct from each other, as well as whether they
are aspects of a higher order concept. A hierarchical regression
analysis of resilience on the two more closely related concepts
of empathy and altruism was performed, which also included
demographic variables at the first step, such as gender, class,
s oc io -economic status, siblings, origin and academic perfor-
mance (Table 2, p. 381). While the influence of the latter was
not significant, both empathy and altruism were found to be
significant predictors of resilience. In particular, altruism was
found to contribute unique variance at the last step of the re-
gression equation, even after the effects of empathy were ac-
counted for, thus suggesting that altruism is distinct to empathy.
Furthermore, a factor analysis was performed on all three
positive psychology measures of altruism, empathy and resi-
lience, to examine any possible communality they might share.
Indeed, a single factor emerged from the factor analytical pro-
cedure (principal components analysis, varimax rotation),
which accounted for 55.96% of the total variance. This finding
suggested that, while altruism, empathy and resilience are dis-
tinct, according to the results of the hierarchical regression
performed above, they also all load on a higher order concept,
which can be termed positivity. Taken together, the above re-
sults offer some support to ABQ having adequate construct
Demographic Differences
A series of one-way ANOVAs were calculated to explore any
differences among the demographic characteristics of participants
and the other study variables. In terms of altruis m, females
were found to be more altruistic that males (F (1, 230) = 8.46, p
< .01). Origin also seemed to differentiate students’ altruistic
behavior , since youths from European countries scored higher
on altruism than all others (F (3, 228) = 2.69, p < .05).
Females exhibited more empathy than males (F (1, 230) =
20.63, p < .001). With respect to resil ience, students who ex-
celled in the Greek Language course were found to be more
resilient that students who had good and average grades in this
course (F (3, 228) = 2.94, p < .05).
As far as classroom climate was concerned, younger students
were found to perceive it as more difficult than older students
(F (1, 230) = 5.27, p < .05). Students from average and lower
s oc io -economic status homes perceived more competitiveness
in their classroom climate than students from higher so-
ci o-economic status homes (F (2, 229) = 3.31, p < .05). In addi-
tion, children with no siblings appeared to be more satisfied by
their classroom climate than children who had other siblings (F
(1, 230) = 4.70, p < .05). Students who excelled in both Greek
Language and Mathematics were more satisfied with their
classroom climate (F (3, 228) = 2.82, p < .05; and (F (3, 228) =
3.59, p < .01, respectively); these students, compared to others,
also thought that the classroom climate was not difficult (for
Greek Language, F (5, 224) = 6.62, p < .001; for mathematics,
F (3, 228) = 3.28, p < .05). Students who excelled at M athe-
matics perceived their classroom climate as more cohesive (F
(3, 228) = 5.88, p < .001); reversely, students with poor grades
in Mathematics experienced more friction in their classroom
climate (F (3, 228) = 4.49, p < .01).
Table 1.
Means, standard deviations and correlations among altruism, empathy, resilience and the classroom climate subscales (i. e. satisfaction, friction,
competitiveness, difficulty and cohesiveness).
Mean S. D. Altruism Empat hy Resilience Satisfaction F ri ction Compet itiveness Difficu lty
Altruism 2.98 0.40 -
Empathy 1.35 0.14 .35*** -
Resilience 5.62 0.66 .45*** .17** -
Satisfaction 2.66 0.47 .11 .23*** .16* -
Friction 1.84 0.63.06 .12.15*.45*** -
Co mpetit iveness 2.25 0.53.08 .16** .00.1** .27*** -
Di fficulty 1.77 0.66 .03 .03.11.06 .13* .13* -
Cohesiveness 2.52 0.50 .09 .10 .13* .48***.45***.12*.12
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
Table 2.
Hierarchical regression with resilience as the dependent variable and demographic variables, including academic performance, empathy, and altru-
ism as the independent (predictor) variab le s .
β T Sig T ΔR² ΔF
Demogra phi cs Gender –,071,13 ,25 ,05 ,05 1,87
Class ,01 ,15 ,87
SES ,08 1,23 ,21
Siblings ,00,12 ,89
Origin ,10 1,5 ,13
Language ,18 2,00 ,04*
Mathematics ,04 ,44 ,65
Empathy ,14 2,05 ,04* ,07 ,01 4,22
Resilience ,45 6,88 ,00** ,23 ,16 47,38
* p < .05, ** p < .001
In order to examine the pattern of possible relations between
altruism and the other variables in this study, namely empathy,
resilience and classroom climate, one-way ANOVAs were car-
ried out. The level of altruistic be havior exhibited by children
differed significantly according to their level of a. empathy (F
(35, 196) = 3.25, p < .001); b. resilience (F (35, 196) = 2.24, p
< .001); and c. competitiveness in the classroom (F (35, 196) =
1.84, p < .01). Higher altruism was accompanied by higher
empathy and resilience and also by lower levels of competi-
tiveness in the classroom.
Subsequently, a linear hierarchical regression (see Table 3, p.
382 for details) was performed to determine whether altruism
could be predicted by participants’ a. demographic characteris-
tics, such as gender, class at school, socio-economic status,
siblings and origin (dummy variables were created for these
ordinal variables in order to be included in the regression equa-
tion); b. academic performance; c. empathy; d. resilience; and e.
cl as sroom climate. Altruism was found to be predicted by: a.
gender (in particular, girls were more altruistic than boys); b.
origin (students from European countries other than Greece
were more altruistic than other students); c. academic perfor-
mance in Mathematics (but, strangely not in Language); d.
empathy; and e. resilience. Assessment of classroom climate
did not appear to predict altruistic behavior.
Dis cussion
In this largely exploratory study, altruism in Greek pre-ado-
lescent children appeared to be strongly related to demographic
and personal characteristics, such as gender, academic per-
formance and empathy, but also to the manifestation of resi l-
ience. With respect to gender, the above result was somewhat
predictable, since altruism and consideration toward one’s fel-
lows in general are more congruent with the female role in our
societies (Radke-Yarrow et al., 1983; Summers, 1987). Girls
and women are largely expected and, hence, raised in such a
way as to show more understanding and empathy towards
others and also to act accordingly (Kakavoulis, 1999). More-
over, our finding is meaningful, insofar as it suggests that such
societal expectations are initially internalized and subsequently
find their way and shape children’s manifest altruistic behavior
(Ra dke-Yarrow & Zahn-Waxler, 1986). In terms of the effects
of origin on altruism, children in our sample who came from
European countries scored higher on altruism than all others.
Nevertheless, caution is warranted in generalizing this result,
since only 3% of the sample came from other European coun-
tries. The presence of other children in the family did not seem
to bear any importance for the manifestation of altruism in
childhood, thus agreeing with empirical results which suggest
that parenting style is the prime factor in helping children de-
velop their altruistic tendencies (Eisenberg & Morris, 2001). It
is, however, worth examining sibling relations in more detail,
since a number of theories, including social learning theory,
ascertain the monumental effects of social imitation and sym-
bolic interaction on modeling behaviors, values, beliefs and
norms of significant others throughout development (Internet
available: -theory).
Finally, academic performance, particularly in Mathematics,
was found to be a strong predictor of childhood altruism. A
process can be hypothesised, by which a number of intervening
personal and social characteristics of the individual and his/her
environment may facilitate the manifestation of prosocial beha-
viors. For instance, perhaps children who perform well at
school also possess higher levels of self-esteem, which in turn
may empower them to be positively predisposed toward en-
gagement in altruistic behaviors. Such processes need to be
studied in the future.
Links were found between altruism and empathy in our sam-
ple, thus supporting similar widely-accepted international find-
ings (e.g. Eisenberg & Mussen, 1997; Hoffman, 1981; Piliavin,
2009). Greek students were found to be similar to students
elsewhere, in that altruism seemed to be facilitated by the em-
pathic abilities of the individual. This finding needs to be taken
a step further in order to explore any possible interactions be-
tween stress and adversity and the manifestation of a range of
prosocial behaviors, as well as the influence of other personal
and interpersonal characteristics, such as self-esteem, motiva-
tion and peer relations in childhood and adolescence within the
context of positive psychology.
Table 3.
Hierarchical regression with altruism as the dependent variable and demographic variables, academic performance, empathy, resilience and class-
room climate as the independent (pre dictor) variables.
β T Sig T ΔR² ΔF
Demogra phi cs
Class .06.97 .33
.04 .65 .51
Origin .15 2.35 .01**
Academic performance
Mathematics .22 2.46 .01**
Empathy .31 4.89 .00*** .20 .08*** 23.96
Classroom climat e
Friction .02 .38 .699
Cohesiveness .02 .32 .74
* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001
To the best of our knowledge, altruism and resilience have
hardly ever been examined together in a study, whether in
Greece or abroad. The results of this study, which indicate that
altruism can be reliably predicted by resilience are, therefore,
important, as they open new horizons for the study of both
concepts within the newly-established domain of positive psy-
chology. The intricate ways in which children and adolescents
manage to exhibit positive adaptation under adverse conditions,
with the mediation and, possibly, moderation of prosocial be-
haviors, need to be further explored. In this way, our under-
standing of the extraordinary developmental and adaptational
capabilities of human beings can be enriched and the human
potential for positive growth fulfilled. The finding regarding the
relations between altruism and resilience also offers support to
the inclusion of emotional education programs and interven-
tions for the promotion of resilience at the family level, but also
at school and in the community, as suggested by (Leontopoulou,
2008). If altruism can aid the development of more resilient
youth, then it can be included and practiced within the context
of such programs. Many researchers make the case persuasively
that positive aspects of human behavior can and need to be
included as part of the school curriculum (Kohler & Fowler,
1985; Triliva & Chimienti, 2002).
Nevertheless, minimal evidence was found linking altruism
and classroom climate in particular, manifestation of altruistic
behavior in children was found in classrooms with low compe-
titiveness among students. While this finding points to the right
direction, it is still surprising that no more connections were
found between the two variables. It is possible that any relation
between the two may have been masked by the significant cor-
relations between altruism, empathy and resilience. Perhaps
altruism is related to classroom climate via the mediation of
empathy or resilience, or any number of other known variables,
such as self-esteem or children’s popularity; such a probability
needs to be empirically tested. This finding can be alternatively
interpreted as mirroring current practice in Greek schools,
where emotional education is not taught, and therefore no con-
nections are made by either students or teachers between posi-
tive aspects of human behavior such as altruism and empathy,
and the classroom climate. This result can alternatively be con-
strued as suggesting that altruism is largely thought to be a
personal characteristic of the individual, and not necessarily
linked to or affected by more social characteristics of one’s
environment. Perhaps such a link needs to be established, so
that students, their parents and teachers themselves may be-
come more aware of the important role that favourable external
conditions in the classroom may play with regard to offering
youths a supportive context, within which they are allowed and
encouraged to demonstrate altruistic behavior.
This study also had a methodological focus, namely to estab-
lish the psychometric qualities of a new measure of altruism
(ABQ) in children. Indeed, the high Cronbach’s α found sug-
gested that the scale has adequate internal consistency. Fur-
thermore, the high correlations between altruism, and empathy
and resilience indicated good concurrent validity for the new
ABQ measure, when measured against the more established
latter scales. This reassuring finding was not altogether surpris-
ing, since all three variables tap into concepts that measure
positive aspects of the human experience, a finding that was
supported by the fact that altruism, empathy and resilience all
loaded on a single higher order factor, namely positivity. There
was also some evidence that the ABQ has adequate construct
validity, on the basis of the results of a hierarchical regression,
which indicated that altruism contributed unique variance to the
measurement of resilience, even after the effects of empathy
were taken into account. Taken together, the above results offer
preliminary support to the new ABQ measure having adequate
psychometric qualities; nevertheless, more studies using this
scale with youths of wide-ranging ages, alongside other similar
measures, are needed to examine other aspects of the validity
and reliability of this scale.
Limitations of the study included its cross-sectional nature,
the use of a single method of data collection (i.e. , self-report
questionnaires) and the absence of other people’s views with
respect to students’ altruistic behavior. Nevertheless, the en-
couraging results from this exploratory study, both in terms of
the variables examined in relation to altruism and of the new
scale which was developed and successfully tested here, lend
themselves to further replication and extension with the use of
more sophisticated data collection and analysis tools.
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The Altruistic Behavior Questionnaire (ABQ)
Below are some sentences that describe ways with which children of your age sometimes behave toward others. We would like
you to tell us how often you behave in the way that each sentence suggests. Put an ‘X’ in the box that shows how often you do what
each sentence says. For example:
Do you apologise to a classmate when you have done something to upset him/her?
Almost never
Most of the time
1. Do you offer something you own (e.g. pencil, rubber) to a classmate when he/she needs it?
2. Do you help a classmate when he/she has trouble with an exercise?
3. Do you try to make a classmate happy by playing with him/her or by saying a joke?
4. Do you cooperate with your classmates to achieve a good goal or target?
5. Do you and your classmates talk about how your vacations went?
6. Do you help two classmates when you see them having an argument?
7. Do you keep company to a classmate that is hurt during a game and cannot play with the rest of the team?
8. Do you invite a classmate who plays on his/her own to join you and your friends?
9. If you have candy or gum, do you offer any to your friends?
10. Do you protect your (younger) classmates when they find themselves in a difficult situation?
11. Do you spontaneously hug your classmates to show them how much you care about them?
12. When you play team games, do you choose to have a classmate in your team, even if he/she is not your friend?
13. Do you offer your seat to an adult at a school function?
14. Do you show a classmate how to play a sport he/she does not know how ?
15. Do you reassure a classmate when he/she agonises over something that troubles him/her?
16. Do you let another classmate to be the leader in the various games you play?
17. Do you share with your classmates a secret or a problem you have?
18. Do you help a new kid at school to feel more at home (e. g. keep him/her company, help him/her with schoolwork)?
19. Do you comfort a classmate who has received a poor mark in a course and is upset?
20. Do you keep quiet during class so that you don’t bother your classmates?