Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Lindsay Malloy

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Asia Eaton

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Maureen Kenny

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Nadja Schreiber Compo

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


prime, oath, lie-telling, honesty, children's testimony

Date of Defense



Children are often involved in the legal system as victims of maltreatment, and their disclosure of adult wrongdoing is necessary to initiate effective legal responses and protect them from continued abuse. However, external pressures and children's perceptions of the consequences of truth-telling (e.g., punishment, removal from the home) may result in the delay of disclosure or failure to disclose altogether. Research examining techniques for promoting children's truth-telling has almost exclusively relied on explicit requests to tell the truth (e.g., a promise, reassurance, assessments of conceptual knowledge and moral discussions), and the success of these techniques has varied. The present study examined the benefit of priming honesty (i.e., indirectly or non-consciously activating the goal of honesty) on children's disclosure of an adult's transgression. One-hundred fifteen 6- to 9-year-olds (M age = 7.47 years) participated in a first aid/safety event during which an adult (mother or stranger) engaged the child in play with a box of forbidden puppets, broke a puppet that was designed to break, and requested that the child keep it a secret. Before responding to questions about the puppets, children were either (1) primed for the goal of honesty (prime condition), (2) asked to promise to tell the truth (oath condition), or (3) not provided with any further instructions or information (control condition). Then, children were asked open-ended, direct, and suggestive questions about whether they or the adult touched, played with, or broke any puppets. Regression analyses revealed that children’s truthful disclosures to direct questions increased when children witnessed a stranger transgressing rather than their mother. However, children’s truthful disclosures across the question types did not differ by age or when a prime relative to a promise to tell the truth was used. Results advance our understanding of how children disclose negative events and the effectiveness of different techniques (including a novel technique) in encouraging children’s true disclosures of a parent or stranger’s transgression.





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