Moral tales that praise a
character's honesty inspire a child to speak the truth more than classic
children's tales that just explain the negative consequences of telling lies, a
recent research shows.
The research findings
indicate stories such as "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and
"Pinocchio" fail to produce the desired result of instilling honesty
"As parents of young children, we wanted to know how effective the
stories actually are in promoting honesty," Victoria Talwar, co-author of
the study and researcher from McGill University, said in a statement. "Is
it 'in one ear, out the other,' or do children listen and take the messages to
To arrive at the findings, the Canadian researchers conducted an experiment
with more than 250 children in the age group 3-7 who were made to play a game
that required each child to guess the identity of a toy just on the basis of
the sound it made.
Midway through the study, the researcher left the room for a minute
specifically instructing the child not to peek at a toy that he left on the
When the researcher came back, she narrated the child a story. The tale was one among the three stories
chosen: "The Tortoise or the
Hare," "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," "Pinocchio," and
"George Washington and the Cherry Tree."
After telling the story, the researcher asked the child to tell the truth as
to whether he or she peeked at the toy out of temptation.
Interestingly, tales such as "Pinocchio" and "The Boy Who
Cried Wolf" which preach the negative consequences of lying, such as
public humiliation and even death, had little effect in instilling moral values
in children. They were only as good as
"The Tortoise and the Hare," a tale of dishonesty, in producing the
The findings also showed a fabricated tale about a young George Washington
prompted the kids to confess the truth.
Researchers said children who listened to the tale in which Washington is
praised for admitting to his wrongdoing were three times more likely to tell
the truth than their counterparts who listened to other stories.
Talwar said the effectiveness of the story about George Washington may be
due to its demonstration of "the positive consequences of being honest by
giving the message of what the desired behavior is, as well as demonstrating
the behavior itself."
The researchers said for instilling moral values in kids, laying emphasis on
the positive outcomes of honesty rather than the negative repurcussions of
dishonesty is the key. On the other
hand, they also added a word of caution that more research is required to find
out whether moral tales affect kids' behavior in the long term.
The research was recently published in the journal Psychological Science.