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young children mostly keep, and expect others to keep, their promises

News from Apr 24, 2017

new publication: Young children's understanding of promises

Kanngiesser, P., Köymen, B., & Tomasello, M. (2017). Young children mostly keep, and expect others to keep, their promises. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 159, 140-158.


Promises are speech acts that create an obligation to do the promised action. In three studies, we investigated whether 3- and 5-year-olds (N = 278) understand the normative implications of promising in prosocial interactions. In Study 1, children helped a partner who promised to share stickers. When the partner failed to uphold the promise, 3- and 5-year-olds protested and referred to promise norms. In Study 2, when children in this same age range were asked to promise to continue a cleaning task—and they agreed—they persisted longer on the task and mentioned their obligation more frequently than without such a promise. They also persisted longer after a promise than after a cleaning reminder (Study 3). In prosocial interactions, thus, young children feel a normative obligation to keep their promises and expect others to keep their promises as well.

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