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Verbalizing a commitment reduces cheating in young children

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Social Development

Published online on


Children are frequently given rules and permissions that contrast their self‐interest, resulting in cheating behavior. The present study examined whether a verbalized commitment without the word ‘promise’ could reduce cheating rates in young children and whether this technique would be significantly more effective than a simple affirmation to a request not to cheat. Ninety‐nine 3‐to‐5‐year‐olds were randomly assigned to one of three obligation conditions: control, simple ‘okay’, or a verbalized commitment condition. All children played a guessing game in which the experimenter left the room on the final trial and children were instructed not to peek at the toy in the experimenter's absence. Children were asked to agree to the request not to peek (simple ‘okay’ condition), to verbally state that they would not peek (verbalized commitment condition), or were just instructed not to peek (control condition). The verbalized commitment condition significantly reduced cheating rates compared to the other conditions, regardless of age. Furthermore, among those who cheated, children in the verbalized commitment condition took significantly longer to peek compared to the other conditions. Results suggest that a verbal commitment without the word ‘promise’ can be an effective method to reduce young children's cheating behavior.