Cognitive and Social Factors in Early Deception

Cognitive and Social Factors in Early Deception

Cognitive and Social Factors in Early Deception

Cognitive and Social Factors in Early Deception

Synopsis

The understanding of early deception is important for both theoretical and practical purposes. Children's deceptive behaviors provide a window into their models and theories of mind. On a practical level, childhood deception poses challenges for the legal system as well as parents and schools.

In this volume, contributors from diverse areas of psychology -- social, cognitive, and developmental -- as well as philosophy and law examine the determinants of deception among preschoolers. In addition to a wealth of new empirical findings dealing with gender, motivation, and context in children's use of deception, evidence is provided for recursivity of awareness in children as young as three years of age. With chapters and commentaries written by leading scholars in the United States, England, and Australia, this book reflects a growing concern with ecological validity in developmental studies and may prompt rethinking of traditional models of mind based exclusively on data from laboratory experiments.

Excerpt

Our beliefs about children's use and understanding of deception have been forged largely from data gathered in emotionally neutral and motivationally weak studies. Like the decades of structuralist studies of children's logical abilities that started in Geneva but soon spread elsewhere, studies of deception have long been tests of whether children would be willing to tell small lies or recognize small deceits, with little or no motive for doing so. And like those studies of logical ability that were conducted in a limited range of contexts, studies of deception are being challenged by researchers who have added strong motives and supplied rich contexts. Recently, researchers using strong motivational manipulations (e.g., protecting loved ones, avoiding embarrassment, keeping a promise), have begun to provide evidence that even very young children use deception. What is not so clear is whether this same research demonstrates that these children understand their behavior as deceptive or whether it is merely an unwitting means to some end. This is a problem that has occupied the attention of some "theory-of-mind" researchers, who have debated the logical prerequisites and the developmental trajectory of understanding deception. But like their earlier counterparts, who were interested in the development of logical abilities, these researchers have forged their opinions on data gathered from emotionally neutral and motivationally weak settings. A contextualist account of cognitive development suggests that children may be more likely to exhibit an understanding of deception when they are assessed in settings that are highly meaningful and affectively laden than when they are studied in weak or affectively limited contexts.

Two years ago, a colleague recounted a humorous story involving his daughter and her 3-year-old son. The latter had been watching his favorite television . . .

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