Longitudinal Relations Among Positivity, Perceived Positive School Climate, and Prosocial Behavior in Colombian Adolescents

Background

Mechanisms and processes that support the development of prosocial behavior (i.e., voluntary and intentional behavior that benefits another) appear to be relevant for understanding youth positive development more generally. This study advances our understanding of how adolescents’ dispositions and socialization processes in schools might jointly affect the emergence and consolidation of prosocial behaviors. Adolescents high in positivity might be inclined to actively (and enthusiastically) participate in school activities, to trust teachers, and to develop a sense of interconnectedness with their peers, teachers, and classrooms—behaviors associated with youths’ perceptions of a positive school climate that, in turn, increases their willingness to engage in prosocial actions. However, it is also possible that positivity is affected by a caring school environment—that youths who trust others and feel supported at school develop a more positive view of the world—or that positivity is fostered by the positive social and emotional consequences of one’s prosocial behaviors toward others. In this study, we examined bi-directional relations among youths’ positivity, perceived positive school climate, and prosocial behaviour. Whereas most of the existing research on positivity and positive school climate has been conducted in North America and Europe, the current study encounters the need to examine these constructs in a different region of the world with a distinct culture, such as Colombia.

Method

Adolescents (N = 151; Mage of child in wave 1 = 12.68, SD = 1.06; 58.9% males) and their parents (N = 127) provided data in 2 waves (nine months apart). We used a two-wave autoregressive cross-lagged model to investigate the direction of influence between variables by controlling for the autoregressive prediction of variables over time. To deal with measurement error, all variables included in the model at T1 and T2 were treated as latent variables.

Results

Findings from this study mainly highlight that: (1) the tendency to look at life, the self, and the future with a positive outlook predicted adolescents’ subsequent perception of having a positive climate in their schools and vice versa. Thus, students’ trust on their possibilities as a group to change and improve school life, their positive perceptions of involvement in collective classroom activities, and their general engagement with school life might be affected by an agentic general approach to respond positively to the environment. Nevertheless, this was not the whole picture because youths’ perceptions of a positive school relational environment predicted the disposition to view one’s self and the world in an optimistic light. (2) Higher levels of a positive school climate at age 12 predicted more prosocial behavior at age 13.

Conclusion

Current results legitimate an optimistic search for characteristics of individuals and their ecologies that can enhance positive development across adolescence. Cohesive classrooms and participative school environments may be key in turn positive dispositions (i.e., positivity) into positive behaviors (i.e., prosocial behaviors) in a number of South American countries with similar characteristics and, perhaps, to other groups of individuals in lower socioeconomic groups.

Contact: bluengo@uc.cl

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