The Motivation Behind Early Deception Restricted; Files Only

Guo, Cynthia Xinran (Summer 2022)

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Deception is a common experience and an integral part of our social life, and it emerges early in development, by 2 ½ years of age. In the past two decades, developmental researchers have identified social cognitive factors that explain how deception emerges. The abilities to mentalize (i.e., theory of mind) and to inhibit one’s own desires (i.e., inhibitory control) are two of the critical ingredients which contribute to early deception. However, it remains an open question in terms of why deception emerges. In other words, what motivates young children to produce their first lies? The current dissertation examined what the motivation behind early deception is and how it changes in development. A modified third-party transgression paradigm was used to capture children’s propensity to deceive to cover up a minor rule violation. Two hundred and seventeen 2 ½ -5-year-old children participated in the study. Children were assigned to one of the three motivational conditions: 1) ambiguous condition; 2) self-motivated condition; and 3) other-motivated condition. Deception was coded through both verbal (i.e., verbal denial) and nonverbal measures (i.e., physically covering up the transgression). Results show that 2 ½ -4-year-old children were more likely to deceive in the ambiguous and self-motivated conditions compared to the other-motivated condition. However, 4-5-year-old children engaged in deception equally across the three conditions. The results suggest that children’s earliest deception is primarily driven by a self-serving motivation. However, the motivation to deceive diversifies from around 4 years of age, when children begin to deceive for both self-serving and other-serving motivations. On the whole, the dissertation is the first to examine the motivation behind deception in very young children. The study revealed that deception is self-serving from its emergence, but by 4 years of age, children’s deception is driven equally by both self-serving and other-serving reasons. This research is a first step to understand what drives the ontogeny of human deception, and how such motivation diverges in the preschool.  

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

The Motivation Behind Early Deception. 1

Deception in Non-human Animals. 2

Deception in Development 4

Antisocial Lies in Development 5

Social Cognitive Predictors of Antisocial Lies. 7

Prosocial Lies in Development 9

Social Cognitive Predictors of Prosocial Lies. 11

The Motivation Behind Early Deception. 13

Deception During Third Party Transgressions Paradigm.. 15

Verbal and Nonverbal Deception. 17

Current Research. 18

Hypotheses and Predictions. 20

Method. 22

Participants. 22

Setup and Materials. 23

Design and Procedure. 24

Measures. 27

Behavioral Coding and Reliability. 30

Analysis Plan. 31

Results. 33

Preliminary Analyses. 33

Descriptive Statistics. 34

Main Analyses. 37

Exploratory Analyses. 46

Discussion. 47

Limitations and Future Directions. 55

Conclusion. 57

References. 58

Tables. 74

Figures. 75

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