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The Coordination of Social Contextual Features in Children's Use of and Reasoning about Honesty and Deception

  • Author(s): Gingo, Matthew
  • Advisor(s): Turiel, Elliot
  • et al.

This study examined the development of children's judgments about noncompliance and deception of parents and teachers. One hundred and twenty participants from three age groups (8, 10, 12 years) were individually interviewed about hypothetical situations that describe a child whose parent or teacher gives him or her a directive that conflicts with the child's chosen course of action. After appealing the directive without success, the child defies the directive and then deceives the parent or teacher about his or her noncompliance. Participants evaluated the legitimacy of the directive, the act of noncompliance, and the deception of the authority figure, justifying their judgment of each. The stories depicted prototypical acts in the moral, personal, and prudential domains.

Children's judgments about noncompliance and honesty showed active weighing and prioritizing of different considerations in different contexts. Age-related, domain-related, and authority-related variance was found in evaluations of the acceptability of deception as well as the justification for those evaluations. The pattern of development found in the judgments and prioritization of the parameters and properties of social situations contributes to our knowledge about the reflective and flexible ways in which children approach moral judgments and coordinate honesty with other social goals. The findings suggest that by middle childhood children engage in coordination of social and moral concerns, systematically endorse noncompliance and deception related to particular types of acts, and judge deception of teachers and parents in different ways.

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