Children are often lauded for their honesty. We tell them to “tell the truth” and “don’t lie.” But sometimes, children’s honesty is not so welcome. Especially when they’re brutally honest.
Blunt truth telling is when a child says something without sugarcoating it or trying to spare someone’s feelings. It’s the kind of honesty that can sometimes hurt.
Interestingly, research has shown that adults judge children more harshly when they tell blunt truths, compared to when they lie.
In one study, adults were shown clips of children either telling the truth or lying. They were then asked to rate the child’s trustworthiness and morality. The adults rated the children who lied as more trustworthy and moral than the children who were brutally honest.
Why is this? Well, it could be because blunt honesty can be seen as rude or hurtful. It can also be seen as a sign of immaturity, as children may not yet have mastered the social skills to know when and how to soften the truth.
Whatever the reason, it’s clear that adults prefer children who lie, compared to those who tell it like it is. So if you have a child who is known for their brutal honesty, be prepared for some raised eyebrows and disapproving looks from adults.
Children who tell blunt truth, as opposed to lying, are judged more harshly by adults.
A new study has found that children who tell blunt truth, as opposed to lying, are judged more harshly by adults. The research, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that when children are honest about their wrongdoings, they are viewed as more blameworthy than their peers who lie about the same actions.
The study authors say the findings suggest that adults view children who are truthful as less mature and more naive than those who lie. And, this difference in perception can have real-life consequences, such as harsher punishments.
“Our findings suggest that when children own up to their wrongdoings, adults may see them as less mature and act accordingly,” said study author Eva Pomerantz, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. “This could lead to more punitive responses, such as harsher punishments.”
The study was conducted in two parts. In the first, 96 adults were asked to read vignettes about 8-year-olds who had either stolen candy from a store or broken a promise. The children in the vignettes confessed to their actions or lied about them.
Adults rated the children who lied as more blameworthy than the children who were honest about what they had done. They also rated the honest children as more naïve and immature than the liars.
The second part of the study involved 120 6-year-olds who were asked to read the same vignettes. The children rated the honesty and maturity of the children in the vignettes in the same way as the adults did.
“This suggests that adults’ tendency to see honesty as a sign of immaturity is not something that is unique to adults,” Pomerantz said. “Even 6-year-olds tend to make this same judgment.”
The study authors say the findings have implications for the way adults interact with children. They say adults should be aware of the bias against honest children and make an effort to judge all children fairly.