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Psychol Sci. 2014 Aug;25(8):1630-6. doi: 10.1177/0956797614536401. Epub 2014 Jun 13.

Can classic moral stories promote honesty in children?

Author information

  • 1Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto
  • 2Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University.
  • 3Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto.
  • 4Department of Psychology, Brock University.


The classic moral stories have been used extensively to teach children about the consequences of lying and the virtue of honesty. Despite their widespread use, there is no evidence whether these stories actually promote honesty in children. This study compared the effectiveness of four classic moral stories in promoting honesty in 3- to 7-year-olds. Surprisingly, the stories of "Pinocchio" and "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" failed to reduce lying in children. In contrast, the apocryphal story of "George Washington and the Cherry Tree" significantly increased truth telling. Further results suggest that the reason for the difference in honesty-promoting effectiveness between the "George Washington" story and the other stories was that the former emphasizes the positive consequences of honesty, whereas the latter focus on the negative consequences of dishonesty. When the "George Washington" story was altered to focus on the negative consequences of dishonesty, it too failed to promote honesty in children.

© The Author(s) 2014.


antisocial behavior; dishonesty; honesty; lying; morality

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