The roles of anxious and prosocial behavior in early academic performance

Social-emotional skills play an important role in a child’s ability to succeed in school. These skills help with how a child adjusts to kindergarten and can help facilitate learning. New research from Australia focuses on two specific types of social-emotional behaviour to see the role they play in later academic achievement.

Research Summary

  • Researchers examined the relationship between two types of social and emotional behaviours and academic achievement in kindergarten and Grade 3.
  • Only prosocial behaviour was associated with kindergarten achievement.
  • Prosocial behaviours predicted Grade 3 achievement via kindergarten achievement.

What is the research about?

The kindergarten years set the foundation for later learning and achievement. Social and emotional behaviour are important pieces of this foundation.

In this study, researchers looked at two important pieces of social and emotional behaviour: anxious and prosocial behaviour. The researchers wanted to learn about the link between these behaviours and academic outcomes. The study focused on both kindergarten and Grade 3 outcomes.

Examples of prosocial behaviours include listening to others, taking turns, following rules, and helping those in need. Examples of anxious behaviours include worried thoughts, self-consciousness or apprehension.

Previous studies often examined these behaviours in combination with other developmental variables such as cognitive development and aggressive behavior. While this provides important information on how these emotions act within a broad network of factors, examining anxious and prosocial behaviours separately allows for a more precise understanding of their effects.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers collected data over two phases:

Phase one included 206,210 kindergarten students from New South Wales, Australia. Data were collected using the Australian version of the Early Development Instrument.

Phase two included a sub-sample of 52,661 students with linked Grade 3 standardized test scores in reading, writing, and numeracy.

Researchers controlled for demographic factors, including sex, age, language, socioeconomic status, and learning disability.

What did the researchers find?

anxious-prosocial to grade 3 infographic draft 2Researchers found that anxious behavior was not meaningfully associated with academic achievement. In contrast, prosocial behavior was strongly associated with kindergarten achievement. Additionally, prosocial behavior was significantly associated with favourable Grade 3 academic test scores, but only via kindergarten achievement.

This suggests prosocial behaviour may help lay the foundation for academic success in kindergarten, which in turn leads to future success in Grade 3.

What does this research mean?

Prior studies have suggested that reducing anxious behavior could help improve school achievement. These results suggest it may be more beneficial to encourage prosocial behaviours to promote achievement rather than focusing on reducing anxious behaviours.