The earlier a child starts telling convincing lies the more likely they are to be a success in later life, new research suggests.
Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
16 May 2010
Researchers have found that the ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast developing brain and means they are more likely to have successful lives.
They found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick witted they will be in later years and the better their abiliy to think on their feet.
It also means that they have developed “executive function” – the ability to invent a convincing lie by keeping the truth at the back of their mind.
“Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib,” said Dr Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto Universit who carried out the research.
“Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks. They may make bankers in later life.”
Lying involves multiple brain processes, such as integrating sources of information and manipulating the data to their advantage.
It is linked to the development of brain regions that allow “executive functioning” and use higher order thinking and reasoning.
Dr Lee and his team tested 1,200 children aged two to 16 years old.
A majority of the volunteers told lies but it is the children with better cognitive abilities who can tell the best lies.
At the age of two, 20 per cent of children will lie. This rises to 50 per cent by three and almost 90 per cent at four. The most deceitful age, they discovered, was 12, when almost every child tells lies.
The tendency starts to fall away by the age of 16, when it is 70 per cent.
As adulthood approaches, young people learn instead to use the less harmful “white lies” that everyone tells to avoid hurting people’s feelings.
Researchers say there is no link between telling fibs in childhood and any tendency to cheat in exams or to become a fraudster later in life.
Nor does strict parenting or a religious upbringing have any impact.
Dr Lee said that catching your children lying was not a bad hing but should be exploited as a ” “teachable moment”.
“You shouldn’t smack or scream at your child but you should talk about the importance of honesty and the negativity of lying,” he told the Sunday Times.
“After the age of eight the opportunities are going to be very rare.”
The research team invited younger children — one at a time — to sit in a room with hidden cameras. A soft toy was placed behind them.
When the researcher briefly left the room, the children were told not to look. In nine out of 10 cases cameras caught them peeking.
But when asked if they had looked, they almost always said no. They tripped themselves up when asked what they thought the toy might be.
One little girl asked to place her hand underneath a blanket that was over the toy before she answered the question. After feeling the toy but not seeing it, she said: “It feels purple so it must be Barney.”
Dr Lee, who caught his son Nathan, three, looking at the toy, said: “We even had cameras trained on their knees because we thought their legs would fidget if they were telling a lie, but it isn’t true.”
Older children were set a test paper but were told they must not look at the answers printed on the back.
Some of the questions were easy, such as who lives in the White House. But the children who looked at the back gave the printed answer “Presidius Akeman” to the bogus question “Who discovered Tunisia?”
When asked how they knew this, some said they learnt it in a history class.