Bioethics Blogs

Lying to children

A study published this month shows that school-aged children are more likely to lie to an adult if that adult had recently lied to them. The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest summarizes the study here.

Hays and Carver took school-aged (and preschool-aged) children and assigned them to one of two experimental conditions. In the first condition – the lie condition – the child was told that there was a large bowl of sweets in the experiment room when in fact there was no such bowl. On entering the candyless room, the adult admitted to having lied, explaining that they had made up the existence of sweets to get the child to come and play a game with them. In the second condition – the truth condition – the child was told that there was a fun game to play in the room which (depending on your idea of fun!) was the truth. Seated with their back to the experimenter, the child was then asked to guess the identity of a toy from an associated audio clue. When the ‘game’ got to the third toy, the experimenter was called out of the room and the child told not to peek at the toy behind them. When the experimenter re-entered the room, the child was asked if they promised to tell the truth. The child was then asked whether or not they had peeked.

Hays and Carver found that amongst school-aged children (but not preschoolers), those who had been lied to were both more likely to have peeked and were even more likely to lie about it.

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