Social and Cognitive Correlates of Children’s Lying Behavior

There is evidence through an observational studies that very young children will lie, and more controlled experiments in a lab setting display children’s nonverbal deceptive behavior. Executive functioning, specifically inhibition control and working memory, have been seen to relate to children’s capacity for lying. The authors of this study were the first to study two- and three-year old’s verbal deception, lying, in a controlled lab setting. The authors believed that children will lie more frequently as they get older, and they wanted to look at the relation between executive functioning and lying.

The authors conducted their experiment on the children individually. The parents of the children filled out a form to assess their verbal ability. The children had to perform a total of three tasks to assess their executive function. Those tasks were reverse categorization, the shape Stroop task, and a gift delay task. The children were then sent through a deception task, in which they were to guess the stuffed animal behind them based on the sounds given, such as quacking for a duck.

The examiner would have the first couple be easy, but then the examiner would get up to dig in a box and tell the children not to turn around because if they turned around they would see the animal they were about to guess. During the deception task, the experimenters kept track of all the children’s behavior and timed the amount of time for them to turn around if they did turn around.

The results of these studies showed that children perform nonverbal deceptive behavior less as they get older, but that their verbal deceptive behavior, lying, did increase as they got older. Older children had more inhibition control when it came to not peeking, and it took them longer overall to turn around and peek during the deception task. The children would often tell their initial lie, but have a difficult time keeping track of it. The children’s verbal ability proved to be insignificant in their ability to lie. There was a relationship between children’s overall executive functioning and lying. The specific executive functioning task that had the strongest relationship with lying was the shape Stroop task. In conclusion, children lie more due to having higher executive functioning and increased age, as the authors predicted.

There has been other research to show that children have a yes bias when asked certain questions, and that was not added to this study. The ability of the young children in this study to be aware of others’ mental state when telling the lie was not assessed either.

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