“Can I Count On You”?: My Undergrad Honor’s Project on Infants’ Prosocial Expectations

As an undergraduate student in the Psychology Department at the University of Washington, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work alongside Dr. Kelsey Lucca and Dr. Jessica Sommerville on an Honor’s project. My project topic is infants’ prosocial expectations. This was a topic I never thought I’d have the opportunity to research, and now it’s what I want to research for the rest of my career! Here are some details about my project, what I’ve done so far, and what my plans are for the rest of my time in my undergraduate.

About my project

Prosocial behavior is behavior that is motivated by a concern for others, and it is significant to society because it provides a framework for cooperation [1]. We know that adults and older children might expect for a child who helps her parents set the table to continue behaving prosocially in other contexts, and perhaps also share her toys with her siblings.

My project asked whether infants also hold such expectations. By their second birthday, infants already show an impressive understanding of prosocial behavior: from three months of age, infants prefer those who help over those who hinder [2]; from 10-months of age, they expect others to behave fairly [3], and by 14-months, they expect others who are prosocial to continue behaving prosocially [4].

To continue this line of research, and to better gauge how broadly infants understand what it means to be prosocial, my project also asked about whether infants expect those who behave prosocially in one context to also behave prosocially in another context. Specifically, we asked whether infants expect those who are fair to also respect property ownership. We used respect for property ownership to operationalize trustworthiness. We chose to operationalize trustworthiness in this way because infants develop an understanding of property ownership between 18 and 24 months of age [5-6]. Additionally, asked about whether siblings influence these expectations. This question was inspired by previous research by Ziv and Sommerville [7], which found that infants with siblings may show enhanced attention towards antisocial outcomes.

My role

I’ve been working on this project since January of 2018. I helped to design the study, I directed the videos we used as stimuli, I recruited participants, I ran participants through the study and answered parents’ questions. We just finished testing participants this January, and since then I’ve been working on coding our data, and supervising the reliability coding process.  To date, we’ve coded most of our data, and I’m now in the process of completing my Honor’s thesis on this work, which will be completed by May 2019.

Future plans

Until I graduate with my Bachelor’s this June, I also plan to get as much experience as I can presenting my work to other researchers at conferences, and networking with other amazing scientists. I had my first opportunity to do so on March 2nd, at the first Northwest Social Cognitive Development Conference. Next, I will be presenting at the University of Washington Undergrad Research Symposium and the Association for Psychological Science National Convention in Washington D.C. I’m very grateful for all of these opportunities to meet other scientists and get feedback on my work! Ultimately, the feedback I receive will be considered and incorporated into my undergraduate honor’s thesis.


Behind every scientist is a team of supporters. So I want to thank those who have supported me in becoming a better scientist, student and person, especially my mentors, Kat Kyuchukova at Smith College who is a co-author on this work and ran participants with me over the summer of 2018; Anna Baumann and Chen Su who have helped me code my data, and all of the researchers at the Early Childhood Cognition lab who have helped me schedule, run participants and supported me and my work in a variety of different ways.


  1. Klein, N. Prosocial behavior increases perceptions of meaning in life. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 2017.
  2. Hamlin JK, Wynn K, Bloom P. Nature. 2007
  3. Meristo M, Strid K, Surian L. Infancy. 2016.
  4. Surian, L., Ueno, M., Itakura, S., & Meristo, M. Frontiers in Psychology. 2018.
  5. Fasig, L. G. Social Development. 2000.
  6. Gelman, S., Manczak, E., & Noles, N. Child Development. 2012.
  7. Ziv, T., & Sommerville, J. . Child Development. 2017.

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