Kids Lie More When Threatened with Punishment for Bad Behavior

Parents who threaten punishment for bad deeds may only be encouraging their kids to lie, according to a recent study.

Parents who threaten to punish their kids for bad deeds may be encouraging their children to lie. Max Ufberg of Pacific Standard points to a recent study that shows encouraging honesty without punishment results in more truth-telling. The new study by McGill researchers was led by Victoria Talwar, a Child Psychology Professor, has research to show that a child's need to appease adults is why they lie. So, instead, encourage them to tell the truth.


The researchers gathered a group of 372 children, ranging in ages from four to eight. The kids were put in a room with their back turned to a noise-making stuffed toy. Researchers ask the child to identify the toy twice, making child perceive the experiment as a kind of guessing game. A new toy was then placed behind the child's back and the researcher would leave the room, stating that the game would continue when he/she returned. The children were told one of two things: that there would be consequences for peeking or that if you do peek, it's good to tell the truth.

Two-thirds of the kids broke the rule and peeked at the toy. But the majority of those who looked at the toy and were told there would be consequences, lied about peeking. Whereas the ones who peeked and were told honesty is the right thing to do, appeased the adult by telling the truth about their wrong-doing.

Talwar explains its all about kids need to appease adults at that stage in their life.

Because children at a young age are most concerned about pleasing adults, external appeals may have the greatest potency in motivating children to tell the truth.”

She went on to explain her findings in a press release for McGill, writing:

The bottom line is that punishment does not promote truth-telling. In fact, the threat of punishment can have the reverse effect by reducing the likelihood that children will tell the truth when encouraged to do so.”

Read more at Pacific Standard

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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