Why and How to Promote Adolescents’ Prosocial Behaviors: Direct, Mediated and Moderated Effects of the CEPIDEA School-Based Program

Abstract

Prosocial behaviors are considered integral to intervention goals that seek to promote successful youth development. This study examines the effect of a school-based intervention program entirely designed to promote prosocial behaviors called Promoting Prosocial and Emotional Skills to Counteract Externalizing Problems in Adolescence (Italian acronym CEPIDEA). The CEPIDEA curriculum was incorporated into routine educational practices and included five major components that reflect the personal determinants of prosocial behavior during adolescence. The present study assessed 151 students (48.7 % female; M age  = 12.4) of the intervention school and 140 students (51.2 % female; M age  = 13.0) of the control school at three points. A multi-group latent curve analysis revealed that the intervention group, compared with the control group, showed an increase in prosocial behavior, interpersonal self-efficacy beliefs, and agreeableness along with a decrease in physical aggression above and beyond the normative developmental trend of the these variables. Participants of the intervention also obtained higher grades than the control group at the end of middle school. Moderation effects for prosocial behavior and agreeableness evidenced that those who benefited most from the intervention were those adolescents with lower normative development of prosocial behavior, low initial level of agreeableness, and high initial level of physical aggression. The results also showed that the increase of prosocial behaviors mediated the decline of verbal aggression in adolescents who had attended the intervention. These findings suggest that interventions aimed at promoting prosocial behaviors while having the potential to support positive outcomes may also counteract or redirect negative trajectories of functioning.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In the present study, we used a broader measure of interpersonal self-efficacy that is not strictly limited to the empathic self-efficacy beliefs evaluated in Caprara et al. (2014).

  2. 2.

    The checklist was a two-page assessment tool in which the following was reported: (a) the level of achieving the different specific aims of the session; (b) the level of students’ involvement in the activities proposed; (c) strengths and criticisms observed in the implementation of the session; (d) specific responsibilities assumed by the members of the staff and the teacher; and (d) utility of timing and materials (see Luengo Kanacri et al. 2014a).

  3. 3.

    The original model-building process indicated by Muthén and Curran (1997) included five steps, in which the last one is the sensitivity analysis (i.e., the evaluation of comparability of the intervention and control groups). In our evaluation approach, we performed the sensitivity analysis in Step 3.

  4. 4.

    The one-unit increment of the first two factor loadings represented the 6-month interval between the pretest and the posttest, whereas the two-unit increment of the last factor loading represented the 12-month interval between the posttest and the follow-up.

  5. 5.

    In order to allow the nonlinear change model to be overidentified, we tested the plausibility of constraining the residual variances of the observed variables to be equal over time.

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Acknowledgments

We are extremely grateful to all the students and teachers of the Garibaldi and De Sanctis Schools of Genzano (Rome) who took part in this study. In particular, we thank Eva Caprara, Guido Alessandri and Giovanni Vecchio from Sapienza Università di Roma for their invaluable help in the implementation of the whole CEPIDEA program. This study has been funded by the Italian Ministry of Health as part of a National Strategic Research Program (grant RFPS-2007-5-641730) on adolescent mental health. In addition, Bernadette Paula Luengo Kanacri is partially funded by the Interdisciplinary Center for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies, CESOC, GRANT: CONICYT/FONDAP/1513000. The funders had no part in the design of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; and preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

Conflicts of interest

The authors report no conflict of interests.

Author contributions

GVC conceived of the study, participated in its design and drafted the manuscript; BPLK conceived of the study, coordination and drafted the manuscript, and interpretation of the data; AZ drafted the manuscript, participated in the design, and performed the statistical analysis; MG participated in the design of the study, drafted and corrected the manuscript; CP participated in the design of the study and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Gian Vittorio Caprara.

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Gian Vittorio Caprara and Bernadette Paula Luengo Kanacri contributed equally to this article, and the order of their names was arbitrary.

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Caprara, G.V., Luengo Kanacri, B.P., Zuffianò, A. et al. Why and How to Promote Adolescents’ Prosocial Behaviors: Direct, Mediated and Moderated Effects of the CEPIDEA School-Based Program. J Youth Adolescence 44, 2211–2229 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-015-0293-1

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Keywords

  • School-based intervention
  • Adolescence
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Scholastic achievement
  • Latent growth curve