Care to share? Children's cognitive skills and concealing responses to a parent

Jennifer Lavoie, Victoria Talwar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Children begin to use methods of concealment to achieve interpersonal goals at an early age, and the ability to conceal information requires cognitive skills to be effective. Despite research on children's lie telling, there is little known about the “spectrum” of concealment methods that children use, which can range from full disclosures to active concealment through the use of deception. This study focused on children's use of concealment methods in a prosocial situation, in relation to their cognitive ability. Children aged 4–11 years (N = 106) completed several cognitive activities that measured theory of mind (ToM), working memory, and inhibitory control with an experimenter and created a surprise gift for a parent. After the activities were complete, children were told to keep the surprise gift a secret until it was ready, then they were sent back to their parents, who questioned them about their activities. Children were coded based on their concealment behavior (full disclosers, partial concealers, passive concealers, and active concealers) in response to their parents’ questions. A discriminant function analysis indicated that age and children's cognitive scores (first‐order ToM, second‐order ToM, and working memory) differentiated between children who disclosed the secret about the surprise gift and children who used partial‐to‐active concealment methods to keep the secret. Results suggest that younger children, and children with lower ToM and working memory were more likely to disclose the secret. Findings suggest that children employ various methods of concealment to keep a prosocial secret from a parent and that higher cognitive ability is associated with the tendency to use concealment methods in social interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-503
JournalTopics in Cognitive Science
Issue number2
Early online date28 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • children
  • concealment
  • deception
  • executive functions
  • Theory of Mind
  • working memory


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