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Children’s Evaluations of Tattles, Confessions, Prosocial and Antisocial Lies

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image of International Review of Pragmatics

Lie-telling is a false verbal statement made with the intention to deceive another. Lies may be told for selfish reasons or due to prosocial motivations. As a result, the veracity of a statement holds more than just communicative intent but rather represents social intentions. In the current experiment children (6- to 12-years old) viewed 12 vignettes which depicted a protagonist either telling a truth or a lie. The protagonist’s statements either hurt another or themselves (other versus self). Following viewing of each vignette participants provided a moral evaluation of the protagonist’s statement (five-point Likert) and a classification of the statements; as either a truth or lie. Additionally, a novel method of evaluating statements was introduced, whereby children evaluated communicative intent as an act, to be rewarded or punished. Results revealed that both lies and truths were accurately identified, with the exception of altruistic lies (benefits to another) and tattling truths (harms another). Younger children rewarded truthful statements, which harmed or hurt another, significantly more often than older children. Older children ranked lies to help another significantly more favorably than lies to protect the self. Children also rewarded confessions and punished antisocial lies most frequently. Results highlight the notable differences in children’s perceptions of varying forms of honesty and lying.

Affiliations: 1: McGill University at Montreal ; 2: McGill University at Montreal ; 3: McGill University at Montreal ; 4: McGill University at Montreal ; 5: McGill University at Montreal


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