Do you swear to tell the truth?
Surprising insights from the social sciences
Getting kids to tell the truth can be challenging. Most parents likely think that talking with their kids about the morality of lying is the best approach, but new work suggests another way. Researchers asked kids between the ages of 8 and 16 to take a trivia test and told them that they would win $10 if they answered all the questions correctly. The kids were also told that the answers were inside the testing booklet but to not cheat, even though they’d be left in a room alone. What the kids didn’t know was that a couple of the questions had no real answers, and the experiment was being recorded by hidden cameras. After finishing the test, the kids were asked whether they had peeked at the answers. The majority of them had indeed cheated, and the overwhelming majority of those who peeked lied about it when first asked. Asking the kids to think about the morality of lying made little difference in getting the kids to recant. However, if the kids were asked to promise to tell the truth — the same approach used in the legal system — a significant number of the liars recanted.
Evans, A. & Lee, K., “Promising to Tell the Truth Makes 8- to 16-year-olds More Honest,” Behavioral Sciences & the Law (forthcoming).
Fischer, P. et al., “Causal Evidence that Terrorism Salience Increases Authoritarian Parenting Practices,” Social Psychology (Fall 2010).
Patall, E. et al., “The Effectiveness and Relative Importance of Choice in the Classroom,” Journal of Educational Psychology (forthcoming).
Roelofs, K. et al., “Facing Freeze: Social Threat Induces Bodily Freeze in Humans,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).
Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.