Lying might not be the first thing that will spring to mind when parents are reeling off the list of their children’s attributes.
However new research conducted in Yorkshire has shown that the ability to lie is the sign of a bright young mind.
Psychologist Dr Elena Hoicka, a member of the team from the University of Sheffield, said: “We already know that adults lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes, so it’s interesting to know why some children are able to tell more porkies than others.
“We’ll now be looking to move the research forward to discover more about how children first learn to lie.”
The study involved a quiz in which 114 six and seven-year-old children were tempted to cheat by peaking at an answer written on the back of a card.
First the children were given two easy questions: “what noise does a dog make?” and “what colour are bananas?”
They were then asked if they knew the name of the cartoon character Spaceboy. Each child was left alone with an upturned card on which the answer was written, and told not to peek.
The answer, Jim, was written on the back of the card in green ink with a picture of a monkey.
Unknown to the children, all this time they were being observed by a video camera concealed in a cardboard box. The scientists therefore knew who had looked at the back of the card and who had not.
Children who got the answer right, and claimed they had not cheated, were tested with “entrapment questions” based on the written answer and accompanying picture.
The children were asked if they could guess the colour of the writing or what the picture showed. If they covered their tracks by pretending not to know, or deliberately guessing wrongly, they were classified as good liars. Children who fell for one or both of the entrapment questions, revealing that they knew more than they should, were rated as poor fibbers.
For comparison, another group of children went through the same procedure but were given permission to peek at the card.
Tests were also conducted to measure each child’s verbal and visuo-spatial working memory. The latter relates to storing multiple images at the same time.
The results, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, showed that good liars performed better in verbal working memory tests assessing both mental processing and recall.