Indicators of Positive Youth Development: Prosocial Orientation and Community Service

Indicators of Positive Development Conference
March 12-13, 2003
Bureau of Labor Statistics Conference Center
Washington, DC


Peter C. Scales and Peter L. Benson, Search Institute

A number of constructs have been of interest for decades in exploring young people’s connection to the wider community, including prosocial orientation, civic engagement, participation in organized youth activities, and volunteerism/community service. There is a need for adequate measurement of all forms of youth connection to community, but the focus of this paper is on the measurement of young people’s prosocial orientation and their commitment to community service. There is a need for both measures of youth as helpers—engagement in the sense of reaching out to others—and youth as social activists. But current measures of youth even as helpers, a broader construct than that of youth as social activists, have some significant weaknesses. These considerations have led us to focus on young people’s prosocial orientation and service, and not on their civic knowledge, competence, or political or collective action. We suggest that two kinds of measures are needed to get comprehensively but briefly at this particular dimension of connection to community:

1.  the “hours of service” type of measure common in studies of youth community service (retrospective behavior report)

2.  a measure of broader prosocial orientation that taps both helping attitudes and behavioral intentions to volunteer (attitudes and prospective behavior report).

In this paper, we review a number of existing measures of prosocial orientation and community service, and examine an alternative 7-item measure of prosocial orientation that includes attitudes about helping others and behavioral intentions to volunteer in the coming year. In a large and diverse sample of 6th-12th graders, the measure has acceptable internal consistency and evidence of concurrent validity. In combination with developing consensus language for retrospective assessment of community service, this prosocial orientation measure may help provide a better continuum of retrospective and prospective data on an important aspect of youth connection to community than currently exists.

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