Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Lied-to children more likely to cheat, lie

Date:
March 19, 2014
Source:
University of California, San Diego
Summary:
A new experiment is the first to show a connection between adult dishonesty and children’s behavior, with kids who have been lied to more likely to cheat and then to lie to cover up the transgression. Research has documented that the majority of parents admit to lying to their children even as they maintain that honesty is an important value. "The actions of parents suggest that they do not believe that the lies they tell their children will impact the child's own honesty. The current study casts doubt on that belief," the authors say. The study has implications not only for parenting but also for teaching scenarios and for forensic situations, said Carver: "All sorts of grown-ups may have to re-examine what they say to kids. Even a 'little white lie' might have consequences."

Children were asked to identify well-known character toys they couldn't see by their associated sounds.
Credit: Courtesy Carver and Hays, UC San Diego

People lie -- we know this. People lie to kids -- we know this, too. But what happens next? Do children who've been lied to lie more themselves?

Surprisingly, the question had not been asked experimentally until Chelsea Hays, then an undergraduate student in psychology at the University of California, San Diego, approached professor Leslie Carver with it. Now the pair have a paper out in Developmental Science, suggesting that adult dishonesty does make a difference, and not in a good way.

"As far as we know," said Carver, associate professor of psychology and human development in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. "This is the first experiment confirming what we might have suspected: Lying by an adult affects a child's honesty."

The study tested 186 children ages 3 to 7 in a temptation-resistance paradigm. Approximately half of the children were lied to by an experimenter, who said there was "a huge bowl of candy in the next room" but quickly confessed this was just a ruse to get the child to come play a game. The others were simply invited to play, with no mention of candy.

The game asked children to identify character toys they couldn't see by their sounds. Sounds and toys were pretty easy to pair: a "Tickle me" audio clip for Elmo; "I love cookies" for Cookie Monster; and "There is a rumbly in my tummy" for Winnie the Pooh. One sound was a deliberately tricky exception: Beethoven's "Fur Elise," which is not associated with any commercially available character toy.

When the classical music cue was played, the experimenter was called out of the room to, supposedly, take a phone call -- leaving the children alone in the room for 90 seconds and tempting them to take a peek at the mysterious toy making that sound. The children were explicitly asked not to peek. On returning, the experimenter also explicitly asked the children to tell the truth. Cameras rolled the whole time.

And? The 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds who had been lied to were both more likely to cheat and then more likely to lie about having done so, too.

About 60 percent of the school-aged children who had not been lied to by the experimenter peeked at the tricky temptation toy -- and about 60 percent of the peekers lied about it later. Among those that had been lied to, those figures rose to nearly 80 percent peeking and nearly 90 percent of the peekers lying.

"Why?" remains an open research question, Carver and Hays note in their paper. It could be the 5- to 7-year-old children were simply imitating the behavior modeled by the adult, or it could be they were making judgments about the importance of honesty to this adult. Or, it could be more nuanced: "Perhaps," they write, "the children did not feel the need to uphold their commitment to tell the truth to someone who they perceived as a liar."

But it didn't seem to make any difference to the younger set, the preschoolers, whether they had been deceived by the experimenter earlier. They peeked and lied at about the same rates. That may be because 3- and 4-year-olds don't have very sophisticated theory-of-mind abilities yet.

The study was not designed to get at the reasons that children are more likely to lie when they have been lied to, but to demonstrate that the phenomenon can occur, Carver said.

What happens when trusted care-givers do the lying also remains an open research question. But Carver and Hays are still urging restraint. Even if it's expedient for an adult to lie -- to get cooperation through deception, for example, or to get children to control their emotions -- it's probably a bad idea in the long run.

Earlier research, Carver and Hays note in the paper, has documented that the majority of parents admit to lying to their children even as they maintain that honesty is an important value.

"The actions of parents," Carver and Hays write, "suggest that they do not believe that the lies they tell their children will impact the child's own honesty. The current study casts doubt on that belief."

The study has implications not only for parenting but also for teaching scenarios and for forensic situations, said Carver: "All sorts of grown-ups may have to re-examine what they say to kids. Even a 'little white lie' might have consequences."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California, San Diego. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Chelsea Hays, Leslie J. Carver. Follow the liar: the effects of adult lies on children's honesty. Developmental Science, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/desc.12171

Cite This Page:

University of California, San Diego. "Lied-to children more likely to cheat, lie." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140319093802.htm>.
University of California, San Diego. (2014, March 19). Lied-to children more likely to cheat, lie. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140319093802.htm
University of California, San Diego. "Lied-to children more likely to cheat, lie." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140319093802.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins