Promises are declarations or commitments made on the basis of faith and trust. It is not uncommon for parents to use this as a way of instilling values in kids. Adding value to this age-old method are the findings of a new study which suggests that tweens who make promises of not cheating are more likely to fulfill them, even when no one is watching.
The study, based in India and possibly the first of its kind in the country, involved 640 participants between the ages of 10 to 14 years. The experiment was designed in a way that one wouldn’t be caught if promises were broken. While making a promise was incentivized, it was offered as a choice.
“Promises are what we call ‘speech acts’ and create commitments by merely saying specific words. So one would think that they have very little binding power. In contrast, research has shown over and over again that many people do keep their word, even at a personal cost,” said Dr. Patricia Kanngiesser, Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Plymouth and first author of this study. “This study provides more evidence of that, and suggests promises could be a powerful way of encouraging and sustaining honest behavior in an academic context.”
The participants were engaged in a game of rolling dice in a box, and points were later converted into prizes. The degree of the dishonesty of the participants was estimated by comparing their reported results to the statistical possibilities of the same.
The results of this study have been published in the Behavioural Decision Making journal.