What makes you get up fro your chair and help the guy crawling on the floor who let all his paper work fall down?
What makes you want to get that ball down from the upper shelf board for that small child?
We do know that even very young children (and maybe even the most social of our primate relatives) feel such an urge to help. However, it has proven very difficult to assess just exactly why, when and how we start to recognize someone else’s need of for help. The difficulty lies in the complexity of the issue: Needing help is no clearly visible, easy to depict category of things.
It has proven to be a really challenging task to develop well-controlled stimuli that show need of help vs. no need of help. Some sunny months on my balcony, hundreds of sketch book pages and hours of computer-editing nonetheless have produced a stimulus set which allows the controlled assessment of need of help recognition abilities. If you are interested in using these pictures – feel free! They are under a cc BY license and available for download on plos.org.
Can you tell which of the two pictures left and right show someone in need and which one not?
I bet you can! We found out that even 3 to 6 year old children readily make this distinction [link].
What is more, such young children are not only able to contrast need of help and no need of help – they can also tell for one picture whether the person on it needs help. This ability seems to be mature in girls earlier than in boys – but at age 10, they have caught up.