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Various Ways to Teach Children the Value of Honesty

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One of the most important goals nearly every parent strives for in their children is for them to learn the value of honesty. In order to instill this value in their offspring many parents use many different methods or combinations of methods to ensure kids understand why honesty is so necessary to being a decent well-mannered person. One of the most common processes parents and guardians use is through the form of good moral story-telling and in order to deduce the effectiveness Lee, Talwar, McCarthy, Ross, Evans and Arruda, designed a study, “Can Classic Moral Stories Promote Honesty in Children.” (2014) Based upon the preliminary analysis of the children in the first experiment none of the stories provoked more honesty from participants except those who heard the story of “George Washington and the Cherry Tree.” This result led to a second experiment that altered the rewarding aspects the “George Washington” story into showing negative consequences of dishonesty to ensure the exposure to the benefits of honesty encourages children’s honesty. Overall the five stories were told to various groups of children but only a single aspect of one story outlining the positive effects of honesty, showed truly positive results in promoting honesty among children ages three to seven.

Due to the common popularity of story-telling to educate honesty to children in an entertaining manner, the authors of this study wondered how precisely effective or ineffective this tactic is and proposed an experiment. The experiment illustrated that there were two underlying demonstrations of honest values in common story tales either through the undesirable results from lying or the beneficial rewards of telling the truth. They also were curious as to whether it was merely coincidental that the George Washington story was more influential or if the underlying message of positive reinforcement for positive behavior was more persuasive in promoting honesty.

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For the first study the scientists gathered all two hundred sixty-eight children from two cities in Canada then designated them into four groups with varying ages in each group. Each group was read a separate story with the control group being read “The Tortoise and the Hare” in order for them to compare the effects of other stories on the children. The scientists believed that each story would bear its own kind of results and effectiveness in producing honesty. They hypothesized that the older children who better understand the notion of death would be more inclined to tell the truth if they cheated after hearing the story, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” This was due to the natural human fear of death that it should be avoided by any means necessary. This explains a dependent variable of the study in how the varying age of the children shows some to have a firmer grasp of the adult world and consequences. While when the stories “Pinocchio” and “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” were considered to be more universally effective amongst the ages because nearly every child could more than likely relate to the public humiliation that Pinocchio endured while also being able to fully grasp the benefits and rewards displayed in the George Washington story. By the end of the first study Lee, Talwar, McCarthy, Ross, Evans and Arruda (2014) had come to the conclusion that “The children who heard the ‘George Washington’ story were more than three times less likely to lie about peeking at the toy compared with the children who heard “The Tortoise and the Hare.” (p. 1633).

The participants were assigned a test to guess what kind of toy the scientist had hidden based on the noise it made. After a couple toys the experimenter would inform the participants that there was a book they forgot that they wanted to read to the child and would then leave the toy unattended behind the child’s back and told the kids not to look while they left the room. The experimenter interviewing the children was unaware if they peeked while they left the room but in the control room another experimenter secretly videotaped the children marking whether or not they did peek. Once the unaware experimenter returned with the book, depending on which group it varied which book they were read. Then once the book was finished the experimenter would then ask the children a question related to the book they were read such as, “I’m going to ask you a question, and I don’t want you to be like the boy who cried wolf [or Pinocchio]. I want you to tell me the truth, OK?” (Lee, Talwar, McCarthy, Ross, Evans and Arruda, 2014, p. 1632) then asked the children whether or not they peeked but if the children were read the George Washington story then they were asked “I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to be like George Washington in the story. I want you to tell me the truth, OK? Did you turn around and peek at the toy when I left the room?” (Lee, Talwar, McCarthy, Ross, Evans and Arruda, 2014, p. 1632) And if they were part of the control group who were read “The Tortoise and the Hare” then their honesty question bared no relation to the story.

After their first study they were curious in how the children who observed the good virtue of honesty in the “George Washington” story were so much more likely to admit to peeking. This led to the second experiment where a new group of children were read a revised version of the “George Washington” Story where the young George Washington was punished for lying and had his ax taken away. The results from this study were similar to those of “Pinocchio” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and they were then added to the data gathered from the first study to better compare all of the information together. For their conclusion as far as peeking versus not peeking the only correlation was the age group of kids, showing that as aged increased so did the odds of the children not peeking while the experimenter left the room. In the end they concluded “our results indicate that extolling the positive consequences of honesty rather than emphasizing the negative consequences of dishonesty can promote honest behavior in young children.” (Lee, Talwar, McCarthy, Ross, Evans and Arruda, 2014, p. 1635)

After thoroughly reading and annotating the research article it was clear that this was a very through and well thought out study performed by blatantly intelligent experimenters and scientists. It’s presented in a very formal format with both strong ethical and legal guidelines followed from how they went about selecting and gaining consent for participants to ensuring every group had a fairly equal representation from each age group. The design and formation of how they created an ideal situation in which the children would easily be able to cheat their test provided a great basis in order to draw results of those who would be influenced by the stories values and apply them to their current acts of either peeking or not peeking. They formed intelligent hypothesis before conducting their experiment and even ran further a further experiment to ensure the results were accurate proving their thoroughness and dedication to the truth of the study and sciences.

The study was fairly successful but did indeed have a few limitations as far as the number of results gathered and the age range. The experimenters had a very appropriate sample size of around sixty participants per group for each of the stories read but having a larger sample size does almost always lead to more accurate and definitive results. They could’ve also included a wider age range (in regards to the maximum age since any children younger than three would be very unlikely to even fully participate) to see if maybe older children with more advanced understanding and literacy would better grasp of the concepts they are being shown and how to apply them to their lives. The procedure was effective and simple but lacked a broad survey to see if the children had gained any more sense of honesty from the stories by only giving them one chance to lie or tell the truth. If they were provided more questions and possibly different scenarios and opportunities to where they could really be rewarded for being honest or punished (Ethically) for lying. There was also a small variety of books shown. This led to concise and evenly distributed results but including more classic books that outline the benefits of honesty might’ve shown unexpected results. Otherwise it would’ve likely provided more support for the already generated results. The recommendations proposed are merely to widen the limitations of the study and generate more accurate results within all the age.

The research article “Can Classic Moral Stories promote Honesty in Children?” by Lee, Talwar, McCarthy, Ross, Evans and Arruda clearly outlined the effectiveness of some of the popular and classic stories parents tell their children, in actually instilling honesty amongst kids. They conduct their whole experiment following the scientific method proposing their hypothesis before each experiment all the way to circling back to whether or not their conclusions were correct and if their results were both accurately and efficiently gathered. Personally I found the article to be interesting but it contained a slightly complex mathematical results portion that was admittedly hard to fully grasp for myself. However this only shows that they are clearly dedicated to their studies and they themselves have a strong grasp on how to fully analyze the data they collect in order to confirm the range and significant factors of their study. Overall they executed their study, marked their results, explained their study, procedure, and results and finally generated their conclusion that their studies show influencing positive rewards for honesty generate more honesty from kids than demonstrating the consequences of dishonesty.


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