Harsh discipline fosters dishonesty in young children

October 24, 2011, McGill University

Young children exposed to a harshly punitive school environment are more inclined to lie to conceal their misbehaviour than are children from non-punitive schools, a study of three- and four-year-old West African children suggests.

The study, published in the journal Child Development, also indicates that in a punitive environment are able to tell more convincing lies than those in a non-punitive environment.

The research, by Professor Victoria Talwar of McGill University and Professor Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, examined deceptive in two groups of children living in the same . One group was enrolled in a that used a traditional authoritarian model, in which beating with a stick, slapping of the head, and pinching were administered publicly and routinely for offenses ranging from forgetting a pencil to being disruptive in class. In the other school, also private, children were disciplined with time-outs or scolding and, for more serious offenses, were taken to the principal's office for further reprimand.

The study involved an experiment comparing the behaviour of children in the two schools. Children were seen individually and asked to play a guessing game by an experimenter who was born and raised locally. The children were told not to peek at a toy when left alone in a room. Most children in both schools couldn't resist the , and peeked at the toy. When the experimenter asked if they had peeked, nearly all the peekers from the punitive school lied – compared with just over half of those from the non-punitive school. What's more, after the initial lie, lie-tellers from the punitive school were better able to maintain their deception when answering follow-up questions about the identity of the toy – by deliberately giving an incorrect answer, for example, or by feigning ignorance, rather than blurting out the name of the toy.

The findings suggest that "a punitive environment not only fosters increased dishonesty but also children's abilities to lie to conceal their transgressions," Talwar and Lee conclude.

In fact, the three- and four-year-old lie-tellers in the punitive school were as advanced in their ability to tell convincing lies as six- to seven-year-old lie-tellers in existing studies. "This finding is surprising," the authors note, as "existing studies have consistently found that children from punitive environments tend to suffer general delays in cognitive development."

"One possibility is that the harsh punitive environment heightens children's motivation to come up with any strategies that will help them survive in that environment," Prof. Lee says. "Lying seems particularly adaptive for the situation.

"Our study, I think, may serve as a cautionary tale for parents who sometimes would use the harshest means of punishment when they catch their children lying. It is clear that corporal punishment not only does not reduce children's tendency to lie, but actually improves their lying skills."

Explore further: Spare the rod and develop the child

Related Stories

Spare the rod and develop the child

July 26, 2011
Children in a school that uses corporal punishment performed significantly worse in tasks involving "executive functioning" – psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking, and delaying gratification – ...

Study: Adults can't tell when children are intentionally lying or misinformed

October 19, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- How well adults can detect if children are lying or reporting misinformation is no better than the odds of chance, reports a new Cornell study. The findings have implications for physical and sexual abuse ...

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

DrSki
not rated yet Oct 24, 2011
I would be interested in how the authors ensured that children who were not behaving well at home (perhaps lying...) were equally split between the two schools. Otherwise this would be one confounding that invalidates the study. Most neighborhoods are NOT a uniform melting pot to "assume" any type of distribution to either school would result in a uniform distribution of characteristics especially including sociological attributes. Oops - random assignment to either school is NOT occurring.
Nerdyguy
not rated yet Oct 24, 2011
There are so many potential fallacies in this type of study that it's difficult to refer to it as "hard" science.
Skepticus
not rated yet Oct 30, 2011
What the researchers are saying is that the their fathers and grandfathers who were raised and disciplined with the stick grown up to be expert liars, dishonest CEOs and politicians, a far cry from the snow-white honest politicians and companies'CEOs of today.
Callippo
1 / 5 (1) Oct 30, 2011
One classical example: the Hitler's farther. Even one of his closest friends admitted that Alois was 'awfully rough' with his wife [Klara] and 'hardly ever spoke a word to her at home.'" If Hitler was in a bad mood, he picked on the older children or Klara herself, in front of them. Adolf had become so alienated from his father that he was repulsed by whatever Alois wanted.

http://www.geschi...foto.jpg

The defensively hostile pose of young Adolf Hitler says it all..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.