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Social cohesion relies on prosociality in increasingly aging populations. Helping other people requires effort, yet how willing people are to exert effort to benefit themselves and others, and whether such behaviors shift across the life span, is poorly understood. Using computational modeling, we tested the willingness of 95 younger adults (18–36 years old) and 92 older adults (55–84 years old) to put physical effort into self- and other-benefiting acts. Participants chose whether to work and exert force (30%–70% of maximum grip strength) for rewards (2–10 credits) accrued for themselves or, prosocially, for another. Younger adults were somewhat selfish, choosing to work more at higher effort levels for themselves, and exerted less force in prosocial work. Strikingly, compared with younger adults, older people were more willing to put in effort for others and exerted equal force for themselves and others. Increased prosociality in older people has important implications for human behavior and societal structure.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychological Science

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