British Journal of Developmental Psychology

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Volume 20 Issue 1 (March 2002), Pages 1-156

Children's understanding about white lies (pages 47-65)

In three experiments, children suggested and justified a verbal response for a story character who received a disappointing gift. In Experiment 1, responses suggesting falsely that the recipient liked the gift were increasingly common over the ages 4–9 years. Children who suggested false responses judged that the giver would believe the gift was liked and would be happy following the falsehood. They also predicted that the giver would be unhappy had the truth been told, and passed a test of second‐order false belief. However, many children who suggested truthful responses, that the gift was disliked, also revealed a full understanding of the consequences of giving true and false responses, and also passed second‐order false belief. Mental‐state understanding was developmentally prior to suggesting a false response. In Experiment 2, involving 6‐, 8‐ and 10‐year‐olds, more children suggested false verbal than false facial responses. In Experiments 2 and 3, giving children the pro‐social reason for falsifying increased the incidence of false responses, even amongst children who appeared not to be able to handle second‐order mental states. In Experiment 3, 6‐year‐olds suggested truthful responses just as frequently, whether the speaker was an adult or a child. Many young children apparently place more weight on truth‐telling than on protecting the feelings of a gift‐giver.

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