Moral propaganda

With fables, we tell lies to children to teach them to tell the truth. Does it work?

Storytelling, whether it is a time-honoured and colourful bedtime tale for children or a classroom narrative, is a way of communicating that crosses cultures and borders, captivating the imagination of the listener.

But it can also be a powerful tool to get across a message to shape juvenile thinking and behaviour. Classic moral stories or fables have long been a popular way to teach young children about right and wrong, about the consequences of lying and the merits of honesty as part of a socialisation process.

Most adults can recall vivid and sometimes frightening tales told to them in early childhood, and may even recycle them when it comes to their own turn at parenting.

But it’s not clear if this generations-old approach to teaching moral and social values has any meaningful or lasting effect on children in promoting honesty.

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