The relationship between parents' reward inconsistency and children's strategic social behaviors

Xiaozi GAO, Zhenlin WANG

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Parents do not always keep their promises. For example, parents might promise their children of future rewards, but end up not fulfilling that promise. Although parents may do this intentionally or unintentionally, this is one form of lying behavior that may influence their children. Indeed, recent studies are increasingly investigating such behaviors as a parenting practice referred to as "parenting by lying" (e.g., Dodd & Malm, 2021; Setoh et al., 2020). Children may learn from their parents' behaviors through observation, imitation, and modeling (Bandurra, 1977), and demonstrate strategic social behaviors such as lying (Santos et al., 2017). Previous research has also shown that parental mind-mindedness and children's false belief understanding contribute to their lying behaviors (Sai et al., 2020; Wang et al., 2017). Whether parents’ lying contributes to children's strategic behaviors beyond the influence of parental mind-mindedness and false belief understanding is unclear. In this study, we examined the impact of parents' reward inconsistency, parental mind-mindedness, and false belief understanding on children's strategic social behaviors in Hong Kong.

A sample of 134 normally developing children between ages 4 and 7 (64 boys, M = 68.6 months) and their primary caregivers (85.1% were mothers) were recruited. Children's false belief understanding was measured with 1st order and 2nd order false belief understanding tasks. Parents reported their reward inconsistency and their children's strategic social behaviors (Wang & Wang, 2015). Parents' mind-mindedness was measured using a five-minute speech sample. We also assessed children's strategic social behavior using a forbidden toy task. Among the 134 children, 32 told a strategic lie in the forbidden toy task. Correlation analysis showed that parent-reported child strategic social behaviors was positively associated with parental mind-mindedness (r = .215, p = .028) and parental reward inconsistency (r = .295, p = .003) but not with child false belief understanding (r = -.161, p = .180). Child strategic lie-telling behavior in the forbidden toy task was positively related to parent-reported strategic social behaviors (r = .250, p = .050). However, it was not correlated with parental mind-mindedness, reward inconsistency, or false belief understanding (all ps > .05). We further regressed parent-reported strategic social behaviors onto false belief understanding, parental mind-mindedness, and parents' reward inconsistency simultaneously using structural equation modeling. The model provided acceptable fit, 2(69) = 81.049, p = .152, CFI = .932, RMSEA = .036, SRMR = .076, explaining 16.2% of the variance in parent-reported strategic social behaviors. Parental mind-mindedness (β = .219, p = .019) and reward inconsistency (β = .292, p = .002) remained significant in predicting parent-reported strategic social behaviors. A Wald test showed that the regression coefficient of parental reward inconsistency was marginally stronger than that of mind-mindedness, 2 (1) = 3.77, p = .052. We conclude that parents’ reward inconsistency explained unique variance in parent-reported child strategic social behaviors after controlling for parental mindmindedness. Copyright © 2024 All Academic, Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023
EventSociety for Research in Child Development 2023 Biennial Meeting - Utah, United States
Duration: 23 Mar 202325 Mar 2023


ConferenceSociety for Research in Child Development 2023 Biennial Meeting
Abbreviated titleSRCD 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


Gao, X., & Wang, Z. (2023, March 23–25). The relationship between parents' reward inconsistency and children's strategic social behaviors. [Poster presentation]. Society for Research in Child Development 2023 Biennial Meeting, Utah, United States.


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