Prosocial behaviours and the positive impact on mental health

Snapshot Series – Issue 9

Content type
Commissioned report

May 2023


Bosco Rowland, Tracy Evans-Whipp


Prosocial behaviours are any activities that have the aims of benefiting others or society. These behaviours can include volunteering, contributing to others’ wellbeing through acts of kindness, or helping those who are less fortunate. Prosocial behaviours differ from caring done out of necessity, such as caring for a sick significant other. Prosocial behaviours towards others are developmentally important, as they can help children and young people learn to take another person’s perspective, negotiate difference, and develop social and emotional skills.

Federal and state governments are actively promoting the importance of volunteering through the development of a National Strategy for Volunteering.

Key findings

  1. During the pre-adolescent years (4–12 years) children increasingly display prosocial behaviours. 
  2. After an initial decline in adolescence (at around 13 years), young people's prosocial behaviours remain low and stable (between 14–17 years). 
  3. The level of poor mental health symptoms increases each year of development, with a substantial increase between the ages of 13 and 17. 
  4. During the childhood years (4–12 years), prosocial behaviours are associated with up to a 11% reduction in poor emotional symptoms. 
  5. During the adolescent years (13–17 years), engaging in volunteering reduces the likelihood of poor mental health by 28%.

Rowland, B., & Evans-Whipp, T. (2023). Prosocial behaviours and the positive impact on mental health (Growing Up in Australia Snapshot Series – Issue 9). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.