Promoting honesty in young children through observational learning

J Exp Child Psychol. 2018 Mar;167:234-245. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.11.003. Epub 2017 Nov 28.


The observational learning approach, developed more than a half century ago, suggests that it is possible to promote desirable social behaviors through peer observation. However, this idea has yet to be put to a rigorous empirical test. The current research sought to fill this gap by examining whether honesty can be promoted in children by allowing them to observe a peer's display of honest behavior. The dependent measure was whether 5-year-old children who had cheated by peeking in a guessing game would confess to it. Study 1 showed that simply observing a classmate confess to peeking did not promote honesty. However, children who observed a classmate confess to peeking and receive praise and a small prize from an experimenter did became more honest. Study 2 replicated the effect with a weaker manipulation that involved praise for the confessing peer but no prize, which suggests that verbal feedback alone was a sufficient benefit. These findings point to new strategies for promoting honesty in young children and demonstrate that young children's observations of the social consequences of others' sociomoral behavior can help them to guide their own behavior.

Keywords: Confession; Honesty; Lying; Observational learning; Reward; Sociomoral behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Deception*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Peer Group*
  • Social Desirability*