The Roots of Helping, Sharing, and Caring

Free Public Lecture

Ross A. Thompson, Ph.D.

About this Event

How do human beings become caring beings?  In a world of fractious tribalism and polarization, rediscovering the means by which people develop a human connection to the needs and interests of others is more important now than ever.  Developing this human connection may not require ignoring what divides us, but rather also recognizing what people share in common.

This presentation describes fresh insights into the development of human caring from a surprising source: studies of young children.  Although traditionally regarded as egocentric, a generation of new research has shown them to be sensitive both to social categories and discrimination, and to people’s needs and feelings.  Early childhood is thus the period when the tension between social exclusion and shared understanding begins to be experienced, and when social experience seems to be critical to how this tension is worked out in young children’s interactions with others.

Research from the UC Davis Social and Emotional Development lab and other studies provide a developmental portrayal of early childhood in which the capacities for social and emotional understanding and its enlistment into helping, sharing, and caring emerge concurrently with greater understanding of ingroup-outgroup discrimination.  This research also provides insight into the kinds of social experiences that influence this developmental process, and addresses some enduring questions in traditional and modern views of moral development.

By the end of this lecture you will:

  • Understand how young children’s social and emotional understanding contributes to their motivation to assist, share, and offer care to other people.
  • Recognize how social discriminations begin to develop in infancy and early childhood, and why young children prefer their own group to another.
  • Know the kinds of social experiences which influence the tension between social exclusion and shared understanding in young children.

About the Presenter

Thompson Ross 5809 Cl 57

Ross A. Thompson, Ph.D.

Ross A. Thompson is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis, where he directs the Social and Emotional Development Lab.  Thompson is an internationally-recognized authority on the psychological development of young children, parent-child relationships, and the applications of developmental science to public policy problems such as early childhood mental health, child poverty, and early education.  His work integrates understanding of the developing brain with early experiences in both typical and at-risk children, and he consults extensively to legislative committees, public agencies, and private foundations.  Thompson is immediate Past President of the Board of Directors of Zero to Three, a national nonprofit devoted to the healthy development of young children and their families.  He is on the Executive Committee of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, serves on the boards of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and the Stein Early Childhood Development Fund, and was a founding member of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.  He received the Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology in the Service of Science and Society from the American Psychological Association in 2018.