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Children seek and like to engage in collaborative activities with their peers. This social motivation is hypothesized to facilitate their emerging social-cognitive skills and vice versa. Current evidence on the ontogeny of social motivation and its' links to social cognition, however, is subject to a sampling bias toward participants from urban Western populations. Here, we show both cross-cultural variation and homogeneity in three- to eight-year-old children's expressed positive emotions during and explicit preferences for peer collaboration across three diverse populations (urban German, rural Hai||om/Namibia, rural Ovambo/Namibia; n = 240). Children expressed more positive emotions during collaboration as compared to individual activity, but the extent varied across populations. Children's preferences for collaboration differed markedly between populations and across ages: While German children across all ages sought collaboration, Hai||om children preferred to act individually throughout childhood. Ovambo children preferred individual play increasingly with age. Across populations, positive emotions expressed selectively during collaboration, predicted children's social-cognitive skills. These findings provide evidence that culture shapes young children's social motivation for dyadic peer collaboration. At the same time, the positive relation of social motivation and social cognition in early ontogeny appears cross-culturally constant.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Child, Child Development, Child, Preschool, Cultural Characteristics, Female, Germany, Humans, Male, Motivation, Namibia, Peer Group, Rural Population, Social Behavior, Theory of Mind, Urban Population