lying child
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Children who tell blunt truths like "I don't want this present--it's ugly!" are more likely to be judged harshly by adults than those who bend the truth.

The research shows that adults are giving children conflicting messages about lying and telling the truth.

The research shows there is a complicated relationship between the truth and what children are taught to believe.

At some point, most parents will be embarrassed or upset by their child's honesty. It is normal for children to learn to tell lies.

She says that children are taught to lie from a young age. Despite conflicting messages from adults about the acceptability of lying as opposed to truth-telling, we don't know much about the mechanisms and processes that underlie the development and shaping of the critical social skill of pro social lying.

Children are learning about honesty in a complex environment. It appears to be an important social skill to lie to fit in with other's expectations but this is in spite of potential conflicting messages from their adult caregivers.

The results show that 267 people from Northeast US were shown videos of children telling the truth or lying.

The children lied to protect themselves. A child is telling a lie about where their sister is hiding. Children lied out of politeness in order to avoid hurting someone's feelings.

Children acted out four different lies or truths. In the hiding sister scenario, the "blunt lie" was that she went to the library to do homework; the subtle lie was that she might have gone to bed; and the blunt truth was that she might have gone to bed.

The adults rated the child's trustworthiness, kindness, reliability, competence, likeability, intelligence and honesty after watching the videos. Participants rated how likely they would be to punish the child if they lied.

The adults judged the blunt truth-tellers more harshly than those who lied because they wanted to be polite. Children who lied to protect others had less of an effect on how adults view them.

The study participants said they would most reward the children for telling subtle truths such as "I think she might be outside"

The study shows how adults view lies that children tell in order to fit in and be seen as positive. By looking at which behaviors adults would reward or punish in children, the results suggest how these perceptions shape children's behavior in a way that is acceptable to society.

It is little wonder that children engage in nuanced lie-telling from an early age.

The degree to which adults are inconsistent in their evaluations and self- reported behavioral responses to children of different ages who lie or tell the truth is shown in our study. There are still questions as to whether their in-person behavior would follow suit, but it is likely that these conflicting explicit and implicit messages about honesty and dishonesty act as socializing influences and shape children's early behavior.

There was a mixed range of ethnicities represented in the sample size and location of the study. Adults were asked to rate how believable the children were to factor in the quality of their acting skills.

The research will look at how these early socialization processes affect the development of children's truth- and lie-telling as they grow into adults.

More information: Laure Brimbal et al, Inconvenient truth-tellers: Perceptions of children's blunt honesty, Journal of Moral Education (2022). DOI: 10.1080/03057240.2022.2109606