Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Are children from collectivist cultures more likely to say it's okay to lie for the group?

Would you lie for the sake of your team? Perhaps it depends on the culture you come from. Monica Sweet at the University of California and her co-researchers reasoned that children from collectivist cultures, such as China, which emphasise the importance of group ties, might be more inclined to say it's okay to lie for your team than children from individualistic cultures, such as the US, which place more value on self-interest.

Nearly four hundred children aged seven to eleven, approximately half from a city in Eastern China and half from the US, were presented with fictional scenarios in which a protagonist either lied or told the truth about a transgression by his or her team. The transgression related either to a tug-of-war team cheating by getting extra friends to help or a drawing competition team cheating by getting older children to help.

The surprising finding was that the children from China actually found lying to protect one's team less acceptable than did the children from the US. 'This is not to suggest that Chinese children were acting in an individualistic manner,' the researchers said, 'but rather that they were acting based on what they believed to be a more salient moral aspect of the situation.'

Moreover, children from both the US and China tended to refer to the protagonist's concern for him or herself (e.g. 'she wanted to win'), rather than concern for the team, when asked to explain the protagonist's motivation to lie or truth-tell. Also, asked to justify their own evaluation of the protagonist's lies or truth-telling, few Chinese or American children mentioned concern for others (e.g. 'she did the right thing by standing by her group'). '...[I]t is somewhat surprising,' the researchers said, 'that more children from China, the collectivist culture, did not mention the impact of the protagonist's decision on others.'

'Taken together,' the researchers concluded, 'the findings suggest that collectivist ideals do not necessarily equate to a greater focus on the group, and that situational context matters.' However, they acknowledged that the results might have been different if they'd used a sample of children from rural China as opposed to urban China, where Western influences are on the increase.

ResearchBlogging.orgSweet, M., Heyman, G., Fu, G., & Lee, K. (2010). Are there limits to collectivism? Culture and children's reasoning about lying to conceal a group transgression. Infant and Child Development DOI: 10.1002/icd.669

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.


Ben said...

Brilliant find, very interesting.

Is there any research published prior to this study indicating that children of this cohort's age range are less apt at correctly identifying all the variables at play in a situation? I don't remember with any clarity what it was like to be 11, let alone 7, so it could be that they simply miss concepts such as complex causality i.e. how our actions relate causally to those of the group.

I remember that Saxe et al (2009 - PMID: 18823250) successfully showed that morality changes between 3 and 5 to do with attribution of others actions occurred due to increased development of the right temporoparietal junction, could 7 years olds be suffering from some kind of neurological incompetence similar to Saxe's 3 year olds?

Furthermore, has it been considered how American childrens' morality compares to that other nations'? One might expect a nation so doggedly obsessed with individual success at the expense of others to show less abhorrence at the concept of deceit for self gain. Perhaps that's a little unfair on Americans, but it's worth looking at individual nations within individualist and collectivist societies as more than just that label.

Lastly, if I recall correctly, in Ijzendoorn and Kroonenberg (1988) it was shown that Chinese attachment styles were markedly similar to those of Western nations and differed significantly from other collectivist nations in its distribution of insecure attachment styles, showing more avoidant style than expected. Could China be aberrant in collectivist tendencies?

Jinlong said...

Of course.You can also find children under privatism cultures they more likely lie for themself.It's the concept of group share the thought for lying.

And,now Chinese culture is really special.Pehapes,Chinese culture in 1970s is the stardard representive of collectivist.

Anonymous said...

They should try different transgressions. What about situations where some teammates agree to lie to protect someone from a threat?

Doc said...

I can't seem to find the full text of the article in our database, but I do believe that the discrepancy was in the notion of cheating in the first place; they believed it to be wrong, the team was unrelated to them, and whether the team won or lost would have no bearing on their (the children's) standing (like family honour). If they replicated this study with a tale where the protagonist's female cousin was caught on a hot date and the family covered it up so that the upcoming marriage wouldn't be compromised, it would be a whole different story... :)

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