Children As Young As 7 Already Recognize Hypocrisy
Sun, April 18, 2021

Children As Young As 7 Already Recognize Hypocrisy

A new study conducted by a group of psychologists from the University of Chicago revealed that children can recognize hypocrisy early in their elementary school years or when they reach seven years old / Photo by: Valerii Sidelnykov via 123RF

 

Famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “Hypocrisy is anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.” But parenting can be challenging enough that parents sometimes tell things to their child that they don’t practice or they tell a lie to change the child’s behavior.

A new study conducted by a group of psychologists from the University of Chicago revealed that children can recognize hypocrisy early in their elementary school years or when they reach seven years old.

 

Children Make a Distinction Between Truth and Hypocrisy

Researchers found that kids who were at least seven can already predict a person’s future behavior based on their statement about morals. UChicago doctoral student and first author Hannah Hok explained that as young as seven, children are already starting to think critically about other people falsely representing themselves and about their reputation.

Senior author assistant professor Alex Shaw said that when the words of people are not in agreement with their actual actions or behavior, kids believe that these people should receive harsh punishment.

Kids of this age who were also thought that stealing is bad would be less likely to commit that mistake and believe that theft should be punished harshly.

Researchers found that kids who were at least seven can already predict a person’s future behavior based on their statement about morals / Photo by: Elnur Amikishiyev via 123RF

 

Study Experiments

To come up with their findings, researchers interviewed kids at a Chicago science museum but ensured that they did not collect the demographic data of these kids aside from their gender and age. 

The psychologists started by telling their participants about two kids. The first was someone who condemned stealing by saying stealing is bad. The second kid made a statement that was morally neutral, for example, “Broccoli is gross.” The researchers then asked the participants to predict who among the two children in the story were more likely to steal.

In another experiment, participants were asked to compare someone who condemned the idea of stealing to someone who praised the act of sharing and to another person who said he never steals. Results showed that seven to nine-year-olds treat condemnation as a signal. To them, someone who condemns the sin is less likely to steal but if they steal, they should receive a harsher punishment. These kids believed that condemnation is the predictor of a person’s future actions.

As part of their final experiment, two people were presented to the participants. The first person praised stealing and the other one condemned it. Both younger and older children predicted that the person who condemned the act would be less likely to steal. 

Shaw and colleagues said that their results showed no gender-based differences and they hope to further their study to focus on the behavior of younger kids. They wanted to know if younger kids can better predict future actions even if they are morally neutral. 

In a 2014 study titled “Sins of omission: Children selectively explore when teachers are under-informative,” authors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences stated that kids can tell when an adult is not telling the whole truth, and it is an important skill for them to develop. This is because it helps them figure out who they can trust and who they need to avoid. 

Parents resource First Things First discussed in a video the childhood brain development and said that 90 percent of brain growth happens before kindergarten / Photo by: Sergey Nivens via 123RF

 

Parenting platform Happiness is Here listed some confusing messages adults or parents send to their children either by words or actions. These include the following:

1. “I don’t have to sleep alone, but you do.”

2. “I know when I’m hungry, but you don’t.”

3. “I can decide to have a day off, but you cannot.”

4. “Too much screen time is bad for you, but not for me.”

5. “You must stop what you're doing immediately when I ask, but I won’t.”

6. “I can tell if I’m cold, but you can’t.”

7. “My feelings are important, but yours are trivial.”

8. “You have to share your things, but I don’t.”

The site reminded parents that children are also like adults and that they should be treated with the same rights and respect as the rest of us. If parents want their kids to grow up as self-motivated, confident, capable, and healthy people, their actions in front of their children should not contradict what they are saying.

Brain Development: Facts and Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shared that the early years of a child’s life are very important for their health and development. The first eight years can build the child’s foundation for life success, health, and future learning. Parents resource First Things First discussed in a video the childhood brain development and said that 90 percent of brain growth happens before kindergarten.

While a newborn baby already has all the neurons they will need for the rest of their life, it is the connections between the brain cells that make the brain function and these neural connections are made every second. Babies whose parents frequently talk to them recognize 300 more words by age two than toddlers whose parents rarely speak to them.

What all of this amounts to is the simple rule that all of us know but somehow have a hard time following: honesty is the best policy, even or especially for children.