Kids Who Were Lied to are More Likely to Lie Too, Researchers Say

By Sharon Moore on March 26, 2014

Everyone knows that it’s bad to lie. Yet, everyone does. Some even lie all the time. Even parents lie to their children. But what could be the effect of this to kids? According to a new study, children who have been lied to are more likely to lie and cheat as well.

Chelsea Hays, then an undergraduate student psychology at the University of California, San Diego, together with Professor Leslie Carver, 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.

In the experiment, children were asked 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 "Für 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.

The researchers found that 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 per cent of the school-aged children who had not been lied to by the experimenter peeked at the tricky temptation toy—and about 60 per cent of the peekers lied about it later. Furthermore, among those that had been lied to – those figures rose to nearly 80 per cent peeking and nearly 90 percent of the peekers lying.

Hays and Carver theorised that these children were simply imitating the behaviour modelled 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."

Whilst 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.

The researcher said 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."

Source of this article:

Lied-to Children More Likely to Cheat and Lie

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