Be Selfish or Kind? Kindness from Parents Begets Kindness and Prosocial Behavior in ChildrensteemCreated with Sketch.

in philosophy •  2 years ago

As we grow up, we are influenced by our parents and society. Contradictory values tend to lead to conflict within ourselves or in society at large. For a society to maintain a semblance of cohesion, similar values should be maintained throughout that society. This requires that each generation transmit their values down to the next. But just because parents pass their values down to their children, doesn't mean those specific values will be the most successful.

What types of values are more successfully passed on?
How far does the apple fall from the tree?
How far does inheritance of values go?
Is it really "like father, like son"?

To answer these types of questions, psychologists made a collaborative study between Royal Holloway, University of London and the universities of Westminster, Vienna, and Bern. They assessed 418 families -- looking at the parent's and children's values -- to determine which types of values have the best chance of maintaining the value similarity between parents and children (which values are "passed-on").

There are two general categories of values parents instill as part of their psychological inheritance: (1) self-transcendence; (2) self-enhancement.


Some parents endorse benevolence and universalism values of helping, supporting and caring for others, these would be considered more altruistic values. Researchers called these the values of self-transcendence, where we transcend focusing on ourselves alone and look to help others.


While helping, supporting in caring for others might seem like obvious values to pass on, some parents live by opposing values of striving for power, achievement and following selfishness alone instead of adding more altruism. This is all about enhancing ourselves without much or any concern for others.

Schwartz’s model of values and exemplary items from the PBVS-C

Our value priorities indicate our value profile, like conservation values of tradition, conformity, and
security, or the opposing openness to change values of self-direction, stimulation,
and hedonism

The research suggests that parents who focus on self-transcendent prosocial values are likely more sensitive to their children's needs and establish stronger bonds through empathy and support. Children will identify more with the parents and be more likely to adopt the values that the parents instill in those children. This extends beyond self-transcendent values to include adopting values of being curious or adopting traditions that the parents engage in.

Children will take things "to heart", whether they are being nurtured with positive and supportive values, or influenced to be "the best" as part of the dominant interests of the parent. But when power and dominance are passed down, children don't have as much of a connection to the rest of their parents values. It seems that the identification between the child and parent is less strong and less welcoming of their other values, so the child does not or inherit as many values from the parent.

The end message of the researchers is that parents play a huge role in who we become through the development of our value system. Prosocial parents will essentially breed more prosocial children for the next generation, while selfish parents will less likely "breed" more selfishness into the next generation because the children will adopt less of the overall parental traits. Children of prosocial parents will want to adopt many of the overall values of their parents, while the children of power achieving dominant parents will not identify as much with the overall value profile of their parents.

What is your experience with inheriting values?
Were your parents prosocial and passed that on to you, or was it the opposite?
Are you an apple that didn't fall far from the tree? How much are you like your parents overall in all qualities?

Thank you for your time and attention. Peace.


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There is no doubt about what you share in this article krnel.

There is another aspect that I think can be summarized by this story (true story but I forgot the names, I will reference him as Legend).

An interviewer was asking a massively succesful businessman who is revered as inspirational leader, great family member, philanthropist and innovator.

Interviewer: While your life a legendary example for those who want to get out of the rut, what inspired you to personally to be all these?

Legend: My father. He was a drunkard, abusive and he ill treated my mom and lived like unnecessary weight on the earth. I decided early on NEVER to be him.

Interviewer then goes on to interview the Legend's brother who still lives in the same home where both brothers grew up.

Interviewer: What keeps you in this slums?

Brother: I am son of a drunkard, abusive and unsociable father, what do you expect of me?

Another example, if you are raised by a racist family - you no doubt harbor those behaviors until you go out and learn that 'character' is more important than 'color'.

In summary, while for majority, family determines what values we take on, more conscious people become, they can choose what makes most sense to their conscious rather than carrying on what's given to them.

As always, your posts are thought provoking and informative, thank you krnel!


I concur. I wonder if self-awareness is an attribute that can be developed or instill in children. Honestly, despite our parents' best efforts, they might unknowingly influence in a bad way. Rather than blindly accept our parents' words as a given, we should learn how to question their values.

Interesting and thought-provoking article and comments.


Yup, good story that illustrates how we can overcome our bad environments with conscious will. And, how others can show us how not to be ;)

Raising children the right way is so important as it defines who you become as an adult. However, I also think it's not just the parents and the values we inherit from them. Lot of other players have a role in our growth - teachers, friends, media, and these players impact our values that we derive from our parents. For example - two siblings brought up in the same family may have totally different values even though parents raised them the same way. That's because of the outside impact and how each of the sibling let it impact them. Sometimes I feel my siblings are from different parents all together!!

Also I think as technology continues to take over today's world and the forms of social interaction evolve (much different from our parents generation), there will be less and less similarities between parents and the child qualities. The generation gap is probably more evident in past couple decades than it has been before.

Great post @krnel as always !


Yup, absolutely, environmental influence applies beyond the family. The generation gap is definitely affected by technology.

My dad was an abusive, sociopathic narcissist. It turned my older brother into a monster. I went the other direction, because I realized early in life that he wasn't going to teach me how to be an adult. So the only way I could grow up was to take responsibility raise myself.


Thanks for showing me who not to be ;) I know what you mean ;)

Parents are just a medium for children to grow. Their upbringing creates the foundation for the child. What they adsorb from outside and how they receive it, totally depends on the child. I think I was the apple that fall close to the tree, but over time, wind blew me away, rain softened me, heat made me hard, and rolling on the mountains taught me how to face ups and downs.

Another great post @krnel!


Yeah like you experienced at first we are more easily shaped by our parents as the closest things in our lives, but as we are more exposed to other aspects of the environments, such as other people and media, we get changed. Thanks for the feedback.

I've witnessed my parents take in strangers and cloth and feed them. At times, it was a bit scary, but nonetheless, it has shown me and my siblings great lessons. I may make a post about one of those experiences, thanks for the inspiration


Awe, that's great to hear that they did that. Great lessons indeed.

Most of adults forget how to be children and they really should take some time to remeber how to be that curious of the world, open minded and persistant as childern are. I remember waching after my lil brother when he was taking his first steps it was so amazing that every time he falls he just keep on staning up and keep on discovering the world around. How many of us, adults forget to stand up after we fall? Instead we stand in one place and cry* like a little children.
By "cry" I mean more like self-pity, doubts, concerns

I am an apple that has fallen very far from the tree. My parents, actually my whole family thinks I'm some gypsy hippie weirdo LOL!! How bout you Krnel?


LOL, yeah, pretty far as well :P

Prosocial parents will essentially breed more prosocial children for the next generation, while selfish parents will not breed more selfishness and to the next generation

wait, if only prosocial people pass on their values shouldn't selfishness be dying out naturally?


Sorry, I corrected the wording to make it less absolute lol

while selfish parents will less likely "breed" more selfishness into the next generation because the children will adopt less of the overall parental traits.

There is still selfishness, and maybe more intensity will develop depending on life experience and environment. But as another commenter said "My dad was an abusive, sociopathic narcissist. It turned my older brother into a monster. I went the other direction". As the post mentioned, there is less identification in many cases when the bonds of trust and empathy are not there.


It was not meant as a criticism towards your wording. I actually disagree with the underlying article and as I always say: Disagreement is much more fun than a "I agree 100%" circle-thing ;).

This is not meant personal and I also don't want to make the argument that selfish behavior is better than social behavior. The main thing that gets me, that this is statistical research based on surveys. As someone who knows how easy psyche and numbers can be manipulated, I do not trust any conclusions based on that. That is why I started by disputing the conclusion :).

On the topic: I do not see social behavior as a necessarily good thing or selfishness necessarily as bad. There are many people who are not satisfied with their lives, but instead of thinking about how they can improve their lives which would be the essence of selfishness, they try to make social problems responsible for their lives. It can be even worse when they seek social justice for a group of people they are not a part of. Parents that are nice can also fail at preparing a child for life. Life can be an asshole.

The above are just some examples of how nice and being social can backfire. As someone, who is interested in politics and identifies as a socialist, I do value social behavior over selfishness, but it sounded much too black and white in your post.


Selfishness can also mean whatever ones does for oneself in a rational context always includes what is non-harmful or beneficial for others as well. Doing things that don't harm others is good for us. Acting selfishly for our own benefit in a rational manner is best for all, one could say.

The caterpillar does indeed need to struggle out of the chrysalis, and other example. But that's not the general idea, although valid to suggest as applying. Anyhoot, I get your reservations, but I tend to agree with the overall message, as children from the same parents can sometimes mimic the selfishness and other times not be like those parents. The same can be said for the reverse with empathetic and supportive parents, but this is not to say to baby them like you seem to suggest. I can picture the general idea they are putting forth, despite there lacking a larger sample size or more verification. It's valid from my view of things. I don't think they, or I, tried to paint it as black and white, sorry if it came out that way by maybe not explicitly covering how these qualities aren't absolute, or exclusive.


Acting selfishly for our own benefit in a rational manner is best for all, one could say.

That is the main thing I tried to get across. ;)

It's valid from my view of things. I don't think they, or I, tried to paint it as black and white

I do not think you tried to paint it in any way, but the original article did. It might be that I am just very biased in general towards statistics and especially the ones based on surveys. To shortly explain that:

  1. People in a poll might not be honest. Just because someone says he is social does not mean he actually is.

  2. Statistics can only discover correlation, but people tend to make causation conclusions.

  3. Studies are often conducted to reach a certain conclusion, so there is a incentive to rig the surveys in slight ways (maybe even subconsciously) that help to reach said conclusion.

There is no reason to apologize to someone like me, who has severe trust issues when it comes to statistics (and my personal life :D). Thank you for your extensive replies.


Good point. Perhaps there are so many parents endorsing self-enhancement and so few self-transcendence, that the scale still tips heavily in favour of selfishness in each succeeding generation.

Here is the link to the full research study mentioned since they linked to a ristricted database.

A very interesting post. Love the wheel its very informative on the values we all hold



@krnel very well written and informative. Thank you for sharing with us


You're welcome.

Thanks for the information @krnel
very help me
follow me @hattaarshavin