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Prosocial Skills at 5 Can Predict Adult Success

Prosocial Skills at 5 Can Predict Adult Success

New research suggests the prosocial aptitude of five year-olds is a significant predictor of their future education, employment, and criminal activity, among other outcomes.

The study included 20 years of input collected by surveys administered to kindergarten teachers on their students’ social competence.

Once the kindergartners reached their 20s, researchers followed up to see how the students were faring socially and occupationally.

Students demonstrating better prosocial behavior were more likely to have graduated college, to be gainfully employed, and to not have been arrested than students with lesser prosocial skills.

“This research by itself doesn’t prove that higher social competence can lead to better outcomes later on,” said Damon Jones, Ph.D., a senior research associate at Pennsylvania State University. “But when combined with other research, it is clear that helping children develop these skills increases their chances of success in school, work and life.”

Jones and colleagues analyzed data collected from more than 700 students who were participating in the Fast Track Project, a study conducted by four universities: Pennsylvania State, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Washington.

The Fast Track Project is a prevention program for children at high risk for long-term behavioral problems. The individuals studied for this research were part of the control group and did not receive any preventive services. Overall, the sample was representative of children living in lower socio-economic status neighborhoods.

Kindergarten teachers rated students on eight items using a five-point scale assessing how each child interacted socially with other children. Items included statements such as “is helpful to others,” “shares materials,” and “resolves peer problems on own.”

The researchers compared the teachers’ assessments to the students’ outcomes in five areas during late adolescence through age 25 — including education and employment, public assistance, criminal activity, substance abuse, and mental health. Jones and colleagues report their results online and in a future issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Social competency, even at such a young age, appears to play a significant role in future success.

Specifically, the researchers found that a higher rating for social competency as a kindergartner was significantly associated with all five of the outcome domains studied. For every one-point increase in a student’s social competency score, he or she was twice as likely to graduate from college and 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job by the age of 25.

For every one-point decrease in the child’s score, he or she had a 67 percent higher chance of having been arrested and an 82 percent higher chance of being in or on a waiting list for public housing at age 25. The study controlled for the effects of poverty, race, having teenage parents, family stress, and neighborhood crime, and for the children’s aggression and reading levels in kindergarten.

Nevertheless, all is not lost for children who do not possess strong prosocial skills at a young age.

“The good news is that social and emotional skills can improve, and this shows that we can inexpensively and efficiently measure these competencies at an early age,” said Jones. Evidence from numerous intervention studies indicate that social and emotional learning skills can be improved throughout childhood and adolescence.

Jones and colleagues plan to continue this work in order to further understand how social competency can predict future life outcomes, and further understand intermediary developmental processes whereby early social-emotional skills influence long-term adult outcomes.

Source: Pennsylvania State

Kindergarten children playing doctor photo by shutterstock.

Prosocial Skills at 5 Can Predict Adult Success

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Prosocial Skills at 5 Can Predict Adult Success. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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