Young children selectively avoid helping people with harmful intentions.Child Dev. 2010 Nov-Dec; 81(6):1661-9.CD
Two studies investigated whether young children are selectively prosocial toward others, based on the others' moral behaviors. In Study 1 (N = 54), 3-year-olds watched 1 adult (the actor) harming or helping another adult. Children subsequently helped the harmful actor less often than a third (previously neutral) adult, but helped the helpful and neutral adults equally often. In Study 2 (N = 36), 3-year-olds helped an actor who intended but failed to harm another adult less often than a neutral adult, but helped an accidentally harmful and a neutral adult equally often. Children's prosocial behavior was thus mediated by the intentions behind the actor's moral behavior, irrespective of outcome. Children thus selectively avoid helping those who cause--or even intend to cause--others harm.