Parents Might Be More Sneaky in Front of Sons

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By Anisa Arsenault, Associate Editor
Updated March 2, 2017
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We know, parenting requires its fair share of sneakiness and little white lies. But if you have sons, that may be the case more often.

A new study from the  National Bureau of Economic Research found that while adults are more likely to be honest in front of kids in general, their rate of honesty was much higher in front of girls than boys. This gets to the root of some pretty deep cultural values. Do parents value honesty more in girls? Do girls get in trouble for lying more frequently than boys?

“Perhaps it’s socially more accepted when men are dishonest, but not women,” Anya Savikhin Samek, an author of the study, tells TODAY. “It’s not clear whether this is an evolutionary kind of trait where (parents) try to impart more honest behavior onto their female children or whether it’s culturally formed.”

To conduct the study, researchers recruited 152 parents to flip two coins, each with a green side and a blue side, and record their results. If they flipped two greens, they won a prize. The kicker? They weren’t observed by experimenters — and they knew it.

The probability of both coins landing green side up is 25 percent. But since parents often reported much higher rates — up to 60 percent — researchers deduced they were lying.

When parents flipped coins in front of their kids — all between the ages of three and six — they were more likely to jot down accurate results. That makes sense, says Samek. “Not only do you want your child to believe that you’re good, but you also want your child to learn from you to be an upstanding citizen in the future,” she said.

But the child’s gender played a role too. Parents flipping coins in front of their daughters reported a winning toss about 25 percent of the time — the expected honest rate. In front of their sons? “Winning” tosses jumped to 40 percent.

Samek emphasizes that kids do pay attention to your behavior. So let’s make honesty gender-neutral.

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