Lying and Truthfulness: Children's Definitions, Standards, and Evaluative Reactions


  • This research was supported by an Australian Research Grants Scheme Award (8615687) to Kay Bussey. I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Karen Rickard in the data collection and analysis, Elizabeth Grimbeek, Kerry Lee, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript, and Alan Taylor for his statistical advice. I thank the staff and children at the participating primary and preschools for their cooperation.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Kay Bussey, School of Behavioural Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, Sydney, N.S.W. Australia 2109.


Preschool (M= 4.9 years), second- (M= 7.8 years), and fifth- (M= 11.0 years) grade children's definitions of, moral standards for, and internal evaluative reactions to both lies and truthful statements were investigated. The influence of 4 factors on these judgments was also examined: the falsity of the statement, the content of the statement, whether or not the statement was believed, and whether or not the statement resulted in punishment. Results revealed that while the older children identified almost all statements correctly, preschoolers correctly identified about 70% of lies and truthful statements. Lies were rated as worse than truthful statements by all age groups; however, only the second and fifth graders ascribed feelings of pride to story characters after truthfulness. Implications of these findings for children's moral development are discussed.