My husband used to drive a red MG in which he had installed a big red button to operate the garage door. After our kids had had friends round to play he would give them a lift home in his car and invariably they would ask the question.
“What’s the big red button for?”
Being a bit mischievous he would often tell them that it was the ejector seat button, just like in the James Bond movies, and on no account should they press it because otherwise they would be shot out from the car over one hundred meters. For one young lad the prospect of this was so exciting he immediately leant over and pushed the button several times until he realised he had been duped.
Kids are not stupid. They can usually tell if they are being lied to. But what happens if we share a little bit of a white lie (or a whopper), what then?
Our kids rely on adults a lot to tell then what is real, and yes we do feed them a few fibs aka Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny.
Trust is an essential component to any relationship and it is our childhood experiences that teach us whom we should trust. I think some of our children’s friends started doubting my husband!
If we are provided information that is accurate and complete that also tells us something about that person sharing the information, that they are trustworthy. If it turns out that the information was wrong; you are more likely to be highly sceptical of anything else that person shares with you in the future.
A research paper in 2011 examined the question of what difference it makes if we are only given partial information. It was revealed that if a teacher explained to children that a toy had one function (whereas it actually had four) the kids would spend time only examining that one function. if they weren’t told anything about the toy, their natural curiosity would lead them to discover all four functions.
Further studies have shown that if kids know that a toy has four functions and then the teacher only demonstrates one, their rating of how helpful that teacher is then far lower than those who thought it only had one function anyway.
We evaluate information we are fed all the time for accuracy, but also for completeness. This is coupled to our ability to determine how knowledgeable the person sharing the information is. We make up our minds to think whether some information was intentionally left out, with the inference being it was done to encourage you to discover the rest for yourself.
So next time you find yourself listening to someone who is sharing information with you, just check in: are they correct? Are they giving you the full picture and if not what do you infer from that experience?
Hyowon Gweon, Hannah Pelton, Jaclyn A. Konopka, Laura E. Schulz. Sins of omission: Children selectively explore when teachers are under-informative. Cognition, 2014; 132 (3): 335 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.04.013