Like most other kids, I was afraid of lying to my parents. As a result, I lied to them often.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that my parents embedded a sense of right and wrong in me. Included in that framework was an understanding of how important it is to always tell the truth. But that wasn’t just because telling the truth is the objectively right thing to do. It’s also because not telling the truth is wrong—and there would be consequences for it. But according to a new study by McGill researchers, punishment is actually an ineffective way to deal with lying kids. It might just make them lie more.
The experiment, led by child psychology professor Victoria Talwar, first placed a child in a room with his or her back to a sound-enabled toy, like a stuffed animal. A researcher, also in the room, twice asked the child to guess the toy making this sound. Next, a new toy was placed on the table, this time with a decidedly unrelated sound playing. The researcher explained that he or she would leave the room and return momentarily, at which point the game would resume. But while the researcher was out, the child was very clearly instructed not to peek at the toy. The children were given a specific set of consequences for peeking, ranging from the “punishment-no appeal”—saying that looking at the toy most certainly gets the child into trouble—to the “no punishment-internal appeal”—it’s important to tell the truth about peeking because that’s the right thing to do.
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