The Early Roots of Lying in Families
Children who lie typically learn this from a very young age. While some forms of lying are harmless or even adaptive, other types are maladaptive. Until now, however, the social origins of lying are grossly understudied. In early childhood, families provide the basis for the moral education of their children. Parents sometimes lie (for example, by claiming to leave their child behind when it’s misbehaving) or model lying to children (for example, by telling someone they love a gift while admitting to their child their dislike). Whether and how this parental deception affects children is unknown. Initial studies indicate that socialization of child lying might even be paradoxical: despite occasionally lying or modeling lying, many parents teach that lying is wrong. No studies to date have addressed the causes and consequences of these mixed messages or “moral dissonance” in families.
The Fami-LIES research program consists of four inter-related research projects on the early roots of lying in families. In this series of studies, I will explore and explain how and why parents lie to children, how this contrasts with what they teach, and how lying and moral dissonance relate to child socio-emotional and moral outcomes.
When do parents lie to their children, and what do they lie about? In this project, I will create an overview of the different types of parental lies, and use this to develop new tools and measurements (observation, questionnaire) for research on parental lying.
What if parents don’t practice what they preach? In this project, I will look at the possible discrepancy between what parents do and what they teach their children about lying (moral dissonance). I will study which factors predict this moral dissonance and how it relates to child behavior.
How does lying develop in families across childhood? In this project, I will investigate patterns of lying among parents and children from early childhood to adolescence, to shed light on how parental lying affects child lying and vice versa. I will also study whether lying is related to adaptive or maladaptive outcomes across childhood.
How do children learn about lying from their parents? In this project, I will explore possible mechanisms for parental socialization of child lying. For example, do children use their parents’ behavior as a model? Or do they learn from what their parents explicitly teach them?