121 Moral Story Time

Based on research by Lee, K., et al 2014, written by Mara Rowcliffe, BS.

Many childhood stories are written to include an overall lesson, in hopes of instilling morals and values in children.   Do you think moral stories promote values in children?

Psychologists Kang Lee and colleagues at Kent State University assessed whether classic tales involving lessons showing consequences for lying and truth telling actually promote honesty in children.  The study compared four stories including “Pinocchio,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “George Washington and the Cherry Tree,” and “The Tortoise and the Hare,” a neutral story.  Over 250 children between the ages of 3 and 7 participated in the experiment.  The experimenter instructed the child not to peek at a toy while they left the room, and recorded the child’s behavior. When the experimenter returned, they read one of the stories; then asked whether the child peeked at the toy.

Results revealed the stories of “Pinocchio” and “The Boy who Cried Wolf” failed to promote honesty.  However, the majority of children who heard, “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” were honest.  The story in “Pinocchio” and “The Boy who Cried Wolf” focuses on the negative consequences of lying, while “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” emphasizes the rewards of honesty.

Therefore, stress the rewards of positive behavior. It’s more effective!


Lee, K., Talwar, V., McCarthy, A., Ross, I., Evans, A., & Arruda, C. (2014). Can classic moral stories promote honesty in children? Psychological science, 0956797614536401.

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