1. Can you keep a secret? A preliminary study introducing the RT-based Concealed Information test to young children*
The present study investigates children’s ability to hide certain pieces of relevant information from a mock-crime scenario by measuring their reaction times in the context of an innovative CIT procedure, adapted for young children. Specifically, the aim is to find out (1) if the RT based CIT is effective on children, (2) if age is related in any way to its effectiveness, (3) if and how executive functioning is related to children’s ability to conceal information and (4) if internalizing and/or externalizing problems are related in any way to the ability to deceive.
The RT based CIT is applied to a group of children with ages between 6 and 9 (N=40), recruited from kindergartens and schools in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The mock-crime scenario consists of a teddy-bear peeking at the contents of a gift he was not supposed to see and asking the child for help in covering up his transgression. The child has to do this by concealing relevant information regarding the contents of the gift. The following executive functioning measures are also applied to the children:
· Visual attention task for visual attention.
· Corsi block-tapping test (Kessels et al., 2000) for spatial working memory.
· Knock and Tap task (NEPSY, 1998) for inhibition.
· Word Span for verbal short term memory
· DCCS (Dimensional Change Card Sort) modeled after Frye, Zelazo & Palfai (1995, Exp. 2) and the new version with borders designed for older children (Hongwanishkul, Happaney, Lee & Zelazo, 2005) for set-shifting.
In the meantime, parents fill in the following questionnaires for internalizing externalizing problems:
· CBCL (Child Behavior Checklist -reports from ASEBA; Achenbach, 1992)
· RCADS-P (Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale - Parent Version; Chorpita et al 2005)
Results regarding the validity of the RT-based CIT on children were favorable at a group level, yet the hit rate was lower than that found in studies with adults. Verbal working memory, set-shifting and visual attention accuracy were found to be detrimental to detection efficiency. Children who were better at inhibition were slower in their responses to probes and targets. Children with better visual attention were also slower in their responses to probes and the better their verbal short term memory was the more accurate they were in responding to probes. We also found that detection efficiency was higher in children for whom parents reported more depressive symptoms, while children who manifested more conduct problems were more accurate in in their responses to probes.
*Laura Visu-Petra, Oana Ciornei & Ovidiu Jurje (submitted for publication). “Can you keep a secret? A preliminary study introducing the RT-based Concealed Information test to young children”
2. Deceptive behavior in young children confronted with physical evidence of their transgression: Links with executive functioning and internalizing or externalizing symptoms*
The current study examines children’s ability to make false statements when confronted with physical evidence of their transgression, but also when there is no physical proof of the fact that they committed a transgression. In order to assess preschoolers lie or truth telling behavior, we are using a guessing game based on a modified temptation resistance paradigm. It is modified in the sense that it is a combination between the temptation resistance paradigm (Sears, Rau & Alpert, 1965) and the physical evidence of transgression paradigm (Evans, Xu & Lee, 2011). Moreover, we are investigating therelation between early lying, executive functioning, theory of mind understanding and internalizing-externalizing problems.
The participants are represented by a group of children (N=60) with ages between 3 and 5. They are recruited from kindergartens and brought to the Developmental Psychology Laboratory for testing. To assess children’s strategic lie and truth telling behavior in the face of physical evidence of their transgression, they have been tempted to cheat at a guessing game while the experimenter is absent from the room. Specifically, they have to guess what lies underneath some cups and they are tempted by being promised a prize if they do so correctly. If a child cheats by lifting a cup in order to peek, some balls which are placed underneath spill all over the table, leaving physical evidence of the transgression. Then, he or she is asked how the balls got there. In the other scenario (with no physical evidence) the children, after being tempted in the same manner as in the previous scenario, are simply given the opportunity to peek at a toy which is placed under a cup. Then, the child is asked what is underneath the cup and if a correct answer is given, the child is asked how he or she knows.
The following measures are also applied to the children:
· Dog/Frog (after the Bear/Dragon task used by Kochanska et al., 1996; Reed, Pien, & Rothbart, 1984) for inhibition
· Word Span for verbal short term memory
· DCCS (Dimensional Change Card Sort, modeled after Frye, Zelazo & Palfai (1995, Exp. 2) for set-shifting
Theory of mind tasks, first order false belief understanding:
· Unexpected location (Wimmer & Perner's, 1983)
· Unexpected contents ( Gopnik & Astington, 1988)
In order to measure children’s internalizing/externalizing problems, the following questionnaires are filled in by the parents:
· CBCL (Child Behavior Checklist CBCL 1/5-5 ani, Achenbach & L. Rescorla. ASEBA.)
· Spence Preschool Anxiety Scale (Spence, 1997; Spence et al., 2001)
Unlike findings from other cultures, most of the Romanian young children (around 70%) did not peek under any of the cups, and the majority of the ones who did, peeked under both cups. No significant relationships were found between the presence of peeking behavior and executive functioning, or internalizing/externalizing problems.
*Visu-Petra, L., Jurje, O., & Fizeșan, C. (2014). Deceptive behavior in young children confronted with physical evidence of their transgressions: Links with executive functioning and internalizing or externalizing symptoms. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 140, 599-604. Full text here.
3. Who is the tattletale? Linking individual differences in socio-emotional competence and anxiety to tattling behavior and attitudes in young children*
In this study we are interested in children’s tattling behavior, particularly the consistency between the attitudes children display towards tattling and their actual observed behavior. Moreover, we specifically investigate the connection between tattling and emotional competencies as well as internalizing problems.
Regarding the age group, we are focused on early childhood, especially preschool years between the ages of 5 and 7 (N=40). This is due to the fact that current literature shows a quantitative and qualitative increase in tattling during this developmental stage.
The study also combines standardized measures, such as Test of Emotion Comprehension (Pons & Harris, 2000) and Spence Preschool Anxiety Scale (Spence, Rapee, McDonald, & Ingram, 2001) with adapted procedures. Therefore, in order to asses the attitudes towards tattling we are using a series of vignettes adapted from Loke, Heyman, Forgie, McCarthy & Lee, 2011 and for the actual tattling behavior we have adapted an experimental procedure after the one developed by Talwar, Lee, Bala, & Lindsay, 2004.
Preliminary results indicated that about half of the children freely reported the adult’s transgression, or when simply prompted about the event, whilst the other half either reported only when confronted with an incriminatory question or completely concealed the adult’s transgression. There was some congruence between children’s explicit attitudes and their actual tattling behavior. While a favorable attitude towards tattling was positively related to children’s ability to recognize basic emotions and to understand their external causes, tattling behavior was negatively related to understanding internally (belief-based) generated emotions. Finally, we found a positive link between tattling behavior and increased levels of anxiety.
*Monica Buta, Dana Leva & Laura Visu-Petra (minor revision). “Who is the tattletale? Linking individual differences in socio-emotional competence and anxiety to tattling behavior and attitudes in young children”
4. Children’s attitudes towards lying: do individual differences in social desirability and anxiety make a difference?*
This research is focused on the different direct and indirect attitudes towards deception and mainly on their relation with different types of lies (white lies, prosocial or self-interested lies). Furthermore, we aim to examine children’s attitudes in connection with anxiety/depression symptoms as well as social desirability.
Since earlier research suggests age differences regarding the attitudes towards prosocial lies, we are interested in a broader age range of subjects, from pre-adolescence to late adolescence (N=140).
Regarding the methods and procedure involved, in order to asses attitudes towards lying we are using a a direct measure (adapted from Lundquist et al., 2009) as well as indirect one, with children responding to stories which involve various types of lies ( adapted from Xu, Bao, Fu, Talwar & Lee, 2010). Besides these we are applying the Crandall Social Desirability Questionnaire (Crandall et al., 1965) and the Revised Child Anxiety and Depression Scale (Chorpita et al., 2005) to reveal individual differences in social desirability and anxiety/depression.
Our initial results reveal that children show stronger, more negative indirect attitudes towards self interested lies than for prosocial ones. Also, children’s direct attitudes towards white lies and self interested lies have been negatively related to their social desirability levels, whereas more positive attitudes for prosocial lies are positively associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety.
*Laura Visu-Petra, Monica Buta, Andreea Maria Nariţa & Oana Maria Rognean (In preparation). “Children’s attitudes towards lying: do individual differences in social desirability and anxiety make a difference?”