The APA’s Monitor on Psychology this month has an entertaining and interesting article about how children lie, and how we get better at deceiving as we grow up. Here’s a taster, but you can read the whole thing for free on the APA site here.
…As humans, we are as much defined by our economy with the truth as we are by our cooperation. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, say psychologists. Lying is a cognitive signal that people understand what others are thinking, the important cognitive milestone known as theory of mind. As children grow older, their lying becomes more sophisticated and takes on the characteristics of their respective cultures, revealing to psychologists rich cognitive properties beneath the deceptively common practice.
Children first begin lying verbally around age 3, the time when language development and the ability to control one’s own mental skills combine to form a child’s theory of mind. Also at this age, children have learned their parents’ rules and the consequences of breaking them. …A child’s initial lies tend to be of the punishment-escaping variety. They’re not yet aware of the moral qualms associated with lying… It’s essentially a logic puzzle to them.
… By age 4, children can reliably tell the difference between harmful lies and little white ones, and they stop lying indiscriminately. But, as any lawyer can tell you, the lies don’t drop out altogether. Instead, children develop lying into a social skill.
The article goes on to describe several recent research studies, including a great experiment by psychologist Victoria Talwar from McGill University which demonstrated how lying sophistication increases with age.
- Michael Price, “Liar, liar, neurons fire” in Monitor on Psychology Volume 39, No. 1 January 2008