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Law Hum Behav. 2004 Aug;28(4):411-35.

Children's lie-telling to conceal a parent's transgression: legal implications.

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  • 1McGill University, Canada.


Children's lie-telling behavior to conceal the transgression of a parent was examined in 2 experiments. In Experiment 1 (N = 137), parents broke a puppet and told their children (3-11-year-olds) not to tell anyone. Children answered questions about the event. Children's moral understanding of truth- and lie-telling was assessed by a second interviewer and the children then promised to tell the truth (simulating court competence examination procedures). Children were again questioned about what happened to the puppet. Regardless of whether the interview was conducted with their parent absent or present, most children told the truth about their parents' transgression. When the likelihood of the child being blamed for the transgression was reduced, significantly more children lied. There was a significant, yet limited, relation between children's lie-telling behavior and their moral understanding of lie- or truth-telling. Further, after children were questioned about issues concerning truth- and lie-telling and asked to promise to tell the truth, significantly more children told the truth about their parents' transgression. Experiment 2 (N = 64) replicated these findings, with children who were questioned about lies and who then promised to tell the 'truth more likely to tell the truth in a second interview than children who did not participate in this procedure before questioning. Implications for the justice system are discussed.

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