Barriers (Real and Imagined) and Cheating (09-28-20)

Zhao lead a group that investigated how environments can influence cheating by 5- and 6-year olds. The team report that they “test the moral barrier hypothesis, which posits that moral violations can be inhibited by the introduction of spatial boundaries, including ones that do not physically impede the act of transgressing. We found that both real and imagined barriers, when placed strategically [between children and a piece of paper with the answers to test questions on it], were able to reduce cheating among 5- to 6-y-olds. . . . We found that, as compared to a no barrier condition, children cheated significantly less often when a barrier was strategically placed to divide the space where children were seated from a place that was associated with cheating. This effect was seen both when the barrier took a physical form and when it was purely symbolic. . . . . these findings . . . show that even seemingly unremarkable features of children’s environments can nudge them to act honestly.”   An imaginary boundary created by the researchers was outlined in midair by a toy described as a “magic wand.”   

Li Zhao, Yi, Zheng, Brian Compton, Wen Qin, Jiaxin Zheng, Genyue Fu, Kang Lee, and Gail Heyman.  2020. “The Moral Barrier Effect:  Real and Imagined Barriers Can Reduce Cheating.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 117, no. 32, pp. 19101-19107, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2002249117