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A Punitive Environment Fosters Children’s Dishonesty: A Natural Experiment


  • This research was supported by two separate grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to the authors and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development R01 HD047290 and R01 HD048962 to the second author.

concerning this article should be addressed to Victoria Talwar, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, McGill University, 3700 McTavish, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 1Y2, or to Kang Lee, Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto, 45 Walmer Road, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5R 2X2. Electronic mail may be sent to or


The present study compared the lie-telling behavior of 3- and 4-year-old West African children (N = 84) from either a punitive or a nonpunitive school. Children were told not to peek at a toy when left alone in a room. Most children could not resist the temptation and peeked at the toy. When the experimenter asked them if they had peeked, the majority of the punitive school peekers lied about peeking at the toy while significantly fewer nonpunitive school children did so. The punitive school children were better able to maintain their deception than nonpunitive school children when answering follow-up questions. Thus, a punitive environment not only fosters increased dishonesty but also children’s abilities to lie to conceal their transgressions.