Young children believe adults are all powerful. A five year old, in her own imaginative way, explained, “You should never tell a lie because the brains inside grown ups heads are so smart they find out!”
However, children find out earlier than most parents think that they can get away with their lies at least some of the time. By early adolescence, and perhaps even earlier, by ten or eleven, most children become fairly able liars.
No longer re they always betrayed by the sound of their voice, the look on their face, blatant inconsistencies in what they say, or outlandish alibis. As children gain the power to mislead, parents lose. the certainty they had earlier.
Although they may still catch a lie older children, like adults, do sometimes make some mistakes when they lie, and many lies are betrayed by an accidental discovery parents learn that they no longer know what their kids are thinking, feeling, doing, or planning, unless their children want them to know.
Two thirds of the first-graders we asked said their parents could tell when they were lying, while less than half of the seventh graders said their parents could tell. Consistent with that, most eleventh graders said they were in fifth or sixth grade when .they first were able to lie without being caught.
There is no long nosed Pinocchio sign of lying in children or adults, no muscle twitch, no voice inflection, no body movement that is clear cut sign of lying no indication that a person is lying or telling
truth. Yet there are behavioral clues to deceit sometime contained in what the person says.
The account is too sistent, or directly contradicts the facts. Often the clue lying is not in what is said but how it is said. The sound of the voice, the look on the face, the movement of a hand may not fit the words. The liar may look guilty or sound fearful, or seem too excited to be credible.
As they become older, children not only become more skilled in telling lies to others, they also become more skilled in detecting when they are being lied to. Mom’s false excuse for why she couldn’t make it to the school play, Dad’s claim he wasn’t shouting angrily, he just wanted to be heard over the TV these will no longer always be believed.
It’s not that children become so good at catching lies, it is rather that they start out so bad ‘at it that any improvement appears significant. My own research and that of many others has shown that most people are fooled most of the time by lies.
The improvement that comes with age is more in the ability to tell a lie, not so much the ability to tell when someone else is lying. I found only six scientific studies that attempt to discover if children become more successful liars as they grow up.
The results provide some support for what every teenager’s parent already knows, older kids are better liars than younger kids. Since kids improve at everything as they develop, these studies are not very instructive. One reason such a study may not provide conclusive findings is that a comparison of age groups should be based on the same lie.
That in itself is not easy, for the same reasons that a six year old and a sixteen year old don’t play with the same games or watch the same TV programs. The lie has to be understandable, be interesting, and seem reasonable across the entire age span studied.
The children at each age have to be similarly motivated to succeed in telling the lie. And the scientist has to worry about the ethics of asking children to lie, careful not to teach them lying techniques unwittingly or that lying may be a good thing to do.
In two studies the children were asked to lie about how they liked the taste of grape juice. In one of the experiments, five to twelve year old children, along with some college students, were given two drinks. One was a sweetened grape beverage, the other was made without sugar.
The children were told to convince a twenty four year old woman interviewer that, the drinks tasted good, no matter how they actually tasted. In the second study, some of the children were also asked to lie by saying they disliked the sweet drink.
Another study showed unpleasant and pleasant slides to first an fifth-graders. On half of the slides the children were asked to lie by showing an emotion opposite to what they felt. On some of the unpleasant slides they were asked to look as if they had pleasant feelings, and on some of the pleasant slides to look as if they had unpleasant feelings.
In still another study, boys and girls from six to twelve years age were asked to pretend they were actors being interviewed about their likes and dislikes. They were told to show how ‘well they could act by pretending to like or be neutral about something they actually disliked, and by pretending to dislike or be neutral about something they.