Experiment Reveals That British Children May Be More Moral Than American Children

Before I describe the experiment and result I’d like to put my spin on this. My impression is that if American children ‘cheat’ in a low key way more than than British children it is probably because they are perhaps more ambitious and didn’t consider what they did as cheating as the situation was artificial and the consequences of breaking the rules affected no one other than themselves. Perhaps it is correct to cheat under certain circumstances? It is the way of the world.

Kids and morals

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However, I don’t want anybody to get upset about this. This is not reporting fact and I am just reporting what I read. I think it is an interesting subject because although, on the face of it, it has no connection to cats, it almost certainly does because issues of morality will always affect society as a whole and domestic, stray and feral cats are naturally very much part of our society.

The experiment was conducted to find out how often 6 and 7-year-old children were likely to cheat in a trivia game. This is a test about whether a person is willing or unwilling to cheat in order to gain something for himself or herself.

Six and seven-year-old children in Sheffield, UK were significantly more reluctant to look at the answer to a quiz question when they were forbidden to do so than children in the US who had been tested in previous studies.

Twenty-five percent of 114 British children who were told not to look at the answer written on the back of the final card in a test on trivial information decided to cheat and look at it. Their reward was a packet of crayons. In the American version of the same experiment, up to 70% of the children who participated broke the rule and ‘cheated’.

The psychologist, Elena Hoicka, at the University of Sheffield said that both herself and her colleagues had been surprised by the results.

Although there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that school-age children are able to distinguish between moral judgements (the difference between right and wrong) and social conventions, it would seem that British children viewed ‘peeking’ as a moral issue whereas American children saw it as a social convention. Regarding cheating as a moral issue clearly presents a greater barrier to doing wrong that a social convention which is more likely to be accepted if broken.

These ideas are not fact. They are simply the opinions of the psychologists who conducted the experiments. I wonder what other people think about the results of this experiment?

5 thoughts on “Experiment Reveals That British Children May Be More Moral Than American Children”

  1. Did all of the children come from the same backgrounds? I bet not. I don’t think the study is well founded because too few children were used. Many of the children I know were taught morals by their parents and not by the school system. Maybe that’s thedifference?

  2. I find the differences between the British and Americans — especially in regards to treatment of animals — particularly interesting. On my first trip to London a couple of years ago, I was waiting at an Underground station along with dozens of other passengers when I noticed a pigeon walking extremely close to the edge of the platform. I could barely watch, as I was almost certain one of the passengers would kick the pigeon onto the tracks as a train when by. Nobody did, and I was both surprised and impressed. I still wonder, is that typical British behavior, or did the pigeon simply have a lucky day?

    I’m from the Rocky Mountain West, where many — certainly not all — people take a certain pleasure in killing or injuring wildlife and even domesticated animals. For example, the owner of one of the companies I worked for would shoot and kill pigeons from his second floor window because he disliked the mess their droppings made. Most people simply laughed his actions off. On my daily drive to work, I pass several prairie dog colonies alongside the road. The prairie dogs frequently perch on the shoulder of the road. Nearly every day, I see someone purposely swerve onto the shoulder to drive over them. These kind of actions seem to be tolerated in America, but how would they be tolerated in the UK?

    • Wow, Rena. How mild mannered you are.
      Both of the abuses that you describe would, automatically, put me into a violent mode.
      I know, full well, that I would be disarming the pigeon shooter and tossing the weapon 2 stories.
      And, purposely running over prairie dogs…
      I would chase them down and hope that I had a bat in my car, minimally, a tire iron handy. I have no fear of being jailed for the life of any animal.

  3. Not really sure about this.

    But, from an American’s point of view, I can say that there has, definitely, been a decline in the behavior and morality of the younger generation.

    I lay the blame on society, because parents and teachers have been stripped of all authority. Children are allowed to be unruly, disrespectful, and even violent toward parents, teachers, and animals without fear of punishment. Adults are jailed if they even discipline in the mildest form.

    I can tell you that, if I had disrespected a teacher or parent, I would have experienced a corporal punishment. And, god help me if I had ever abused an animal, I would have experienced severe, severe pain. My parents would have blown a gasket!

    Sandra, I’m so sorry that your father did what he did. I know that, in my grandparents time, it was common to drown newborn kittens. I even witnessed the slaughter of farm animals. It helped mold my life.

    And, I’m grateful that my parents were animal lovers even after being raised on farms.

  4. I wonder if American children may be less moral than nearly any other culture due to the influences of parents, media, and peers.

    American children may see the lack of moral example in their parents. And, parents may not stress the importance of morals as much in affluent families, where “the end may justify the means”.

    There are so many factors, including how children are disciplined for dishonesty. When my children were growing up, I told them that if they were truthful, no matter what they did, there would be no disciplinary action. This motivated them to tell the truth.

    My other device was to tell them that I could see when they were lying, by their eyes. Now that I know a bit about micro-expressions, that was partially true.

    How this relates to treatment of animals and the environment can also be affected by the example set by caregivers. Although, cruelty doesn’t always get transferred to children. My father was very cruel to animals. When I was 5, I saw him throw newborn kittens across the street to their death. He told me they were mice, but I knew better. My heart ached at the truth, knowing there was nothing I could have done.

    One of my sons always brought home stray dogs, and cried if a tree branch was broken by an angry child. I could always depend on him to tell the truth. He doesn’t have any animals because his wife doesn’t want them, and may never have had them as a child.


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