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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 05-May-13

 


Sunday 05-May-13

Asking for the Truth

How do you get teenagers to tell the truth? Threatening them is usually a good way to banish truth altogether as teenagers are struggling to find their independence and are likely to react against any attempts to impose coercive control, especially if all it takes is blank denial.

Curiously, all you need to do, it seems, is to ask them to tell the truth. Evans and Lee gave over 100 eight to sixteen year olds a trivia test, including some impossible questions. They also asked them not to peek at the answers which were just beneath a flap. And guess what, 54% peeked. This actually seems pretty good considering there was a $10 reward for getting everything right. Yet it is still not good news for the truth.

The plot thickened when the researchers asked the teenagers if they had peeked. No surprise here: 84% of the peekers continued the deception and denied having looked at the answers. Then came the real trial: the researchers asked them to tell the truth in the next question, which was a repeat of whether they had peeked. Now the number was 65%. Still big, yet a significant drop. Remember that they had just lied twice so this was a big deal to admit.

Perhaps the most useful point from this is that all you have to do is explicitly ask for the truth and you are immediately more likely to get it. If the researchers had started with this request, I suspect the final lying would have been at a distinctly lower level again.

Reference:
Evans AD, and Lee K (2010). Promising to tell the truth makes 8- to 16-year-olds more honest. Behavioral sciences and the law, Brain Cognition, 74, 3, 210-24

 


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