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Study Suggests Children’s Rule Compliance Can Be Enhanced by Obtaining Verbal Promises

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Studies conducted on adults have demonstrated the effectiveness of utilising promises to eliminate cheating and these results have been suggested to be a consequence of wanting to maintain consistency between commitments and actions.

Children are thought to have difficulty complying with rules when it conflicts with their self interest as a result of their underdeveloped self regulation skills. However, while a study suggested that children younger than seven years old values commitment and holds a negative view of those who break promises, are children also motivated to avoid discrepancies between their promises and actions?

Psychologist Gail Heyman and colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology that tackled this question. They aimed to discover the effect of eliciting verbal promises on rule compliance in children.

The experiment consisted of two studies both of which were conducted on Han Chinese children in China. The first study consisted of 240 children, ranging from ages 4 to 7, in two randomly allocated groups: a promise group (where a verbal promise not to cheat was obtained) and a no promise group (where no verbal promise pertaining to cheating was obtained). A rigged card guessing game was played between an experimenter and each individual participant from both groups and a situation was created where upon the child’s last chance of winning the game, the experimenter leaves the room thus creating an opportunity for the child to cheat by looking at the card.

For 4 years old children, around 85% of children in both promise and no promise group cheated by looking at the card. On the other hand, for children between ages of 5 and 7, the children in the promise group cheated significantly less than children in the no promise group.

A second study was conducted within this experiment which…...

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