Health & Lifestyle

Children who tell blunt truths are judged more harshly by adults than those who tell white lies

Kids who would tell someone that they have spinach in their teeth are judged more harshly than those who keep quiet, a new study has found.

Researchers at Texas State University showed 267 adults videos of children aged 6 to 15 telling the truth or lying in different social situations.

They were then asked to rate their view of the kids, and those who told blunt truths gave a worse impression than those willing to tell a white lie.

However, adults reported that they would most likely reward those who told ‘subtle truths’ that maintained politeness.

The results suggest that young children are exposed to conflicting messages about whether to be honest or lie to be polite or to protect others.

Lead author Dr Laure Brimbal said: ‘This research tends to show there exists a complicated relationship with the truth that children must navigate to learn what is socially acceptable.

‘Most parents will have been embarrassed or upset by their children’s brutal honesty at some point. Learning to tell lies is a normal part of children’s social development.’

The results showed that the adults judged the blunt truth-tellers more harshly than those who lied or told vague truths, but only when they told lies in order to be polite. When children lied to protect others, telling blunt truths or lies had less of an influence on how adults viewed the child. Overall, the study participants said they would most reward the children for telling 'subtle truths'  (stock image)

The results showed that the adults judged the blunt truth-tellers more harshly than those who lied or told vague truths, but only when they told lies in order to be polite. When children lied to protect others, telling blunt truths or lies had less of an influence on how adults viewed the child. Overall, the study participants said they would most reward the children for telling ‘subtle truths’  (stock image)

Rankings given to the children on disposition and trustworthiness when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to protect others

Rankings given to the children on disposition and trustworthiness when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to protect others

Likelihood of the child being punished by the adult when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to protect others

Likelihood of the child being punished by the adult when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to protect others 

Children are more likely to be dishonest if they discover their parents don’t tell the truth 

A study from the University of California suggests children are more inclined to lie if they discover adults have not been telling the truth.

In fact, the more the children are lied to, the greater the chance of them also cheating and lying.

Kids were first asked to play a game by an adult, either outright or by tempting them with a lie, saying their was a big bowl of sweets in the room.

About 80 per cent of those who had been lied to initially cheated on the game, and 90 per cent of them lied about cheating.

For those that had not been lied to by the adult, only 60 per cent cheated and 60 per cent of them lied about it later.

The researchers believe this could be because the child was imitating the behaviour, or they made judgements about the importance of honesty to this adult.

She adds: ‘Children are taught that lying is wrong, nevertheless they develop the ability to tell lies from an early age. 

‘To date, we know little about the mechanisms and processes that underlie the development and shaping of the critical social skill of prosocial lying, despite conflicting messages from adults about the acceptability of lying as opposed to truth-telling.

‘What our results reveal is that children are learning about honesty in a quite complicated environment. 

‘It appears to be an important social skill to lie to fit in with other’s expectations, but this is in despite of potential conflicting messages from their adult caregivers that it is wrong to lie… whilst in addition, it is sometimes is perceived as unkind to be honest.’

In some of the videos shown in the study, published today in Journal of Moral Education, children were shown to lie to protect others.   

For example, a child lying about where their sister, who was in trouble with their parents, was hiding. 

In other scenarios, children lied out of politeness – such as telling a ‘white lie’ to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

The children acted out four variations of ‘blunt’ or ‘subtle’ lies or truths.

For example, in the hiding sister scenario, the ‘blunt lie’ was ‘she went to the library to do homework’, but the ‘subtle lie’ was ‘I think she might have gone to bed or something’.

The ‘blunt truth’ was ‘she’s under the porch’, but the ‘subtle truth’ was ‘I think she might be outside’.

Rankings given to the children on disposition and trustworthiness when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to be polite

Rankings given to the children on disposition and trustworthiness when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to be polite 

Likelihood of the child being punished or rewarded by the adult when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to be polite

Likelihood of the child being punished or rewarded by the adult when they told a blunt lie, subtle lie, blunt truth or subtle truth in a scenario where they could lie to be polite 

After watching each video, the adults rated their impression of the child’s character, including their trustworthiness, kindness, reliability, competence, likeability, intelligence and honesty. 

Imagining they were the child’s parent, participants also rated how likely they would be to punish or reward the child for their lies or truths. 

The results showed that the adults judged the blunt truth-tellers more harshly than those who lied or told vague truths, but only when they told lies in order to be polite.

When children lied to protect others, telling blunt truths or lies had less of an influence on how adults viewed the child.

Overall, the study participants said they would most reward the children for telling ‘subtle truths’ .

The results suggests that young children are exposed to conflicting messages of honesty versus lying to be polite or to protect others (stock image)

The results suggests that young children are exposed to conflicting messages of honesty versus lying to be polite or to protect others (stock image)

The study shows that adults perceive lies that children tell to fit in or be polite in a complex way that depends on context.

Results suggest that these perceptions shape children’s process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society, or ‘socialisation’.

Dr Brimbal said: ‘Given the pervasive impact of socialisation influences on children’s behaviour, as well as the mixed messages children receive about lie-telling, it is little wonder that they engage in nuanced lie-telling from an early age.

‘Our study illustrates the degree to which adults are inconsistent in their evaluations and self-reported behavioural responses to children of different ages who lie or tell the truth. 

‘Questions remain as to whether their in-person behaviour would follow suit, but it is likely that these contradictory explicit and implicit messages about honesty and dishonesty act as socialising influences and shape children’s early behaviour.’

Future research will look at investigation how this early socialisation affects a child’s truth and lie-telling as they grow into adults. 

Kids as young as SIX show scepticism over things parents or teachers tell them, study finds 

Children’s days are filled with lessons, whether it’s maths at school or their parents telling them to eat with their mouth closed.

However, a study has found that kids as young as six start to question what they are being told by adults, by seeking out additional information or testing the claim.

The study by researchers from the University of Toronto and Harvard University investigated if and why children begin to question what they are told by authority figures.

They found that most study participants, between the ages of four and seven, tested surprising claims made to them by adults.

However, older children demonstrated a better understanding of how to properly explore and verify the claim, showing an increased awareness of their own doubts.

Read more here 

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