Is it true that children don't lie?

Lies have short legs Little swindlers, great careers


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Almost every child lies, the older the more. But lying doesn't just want to be learned, it should even be learned! Anyone who lies professionally as a small toddler will be successful as an adult.

Status: January 15, 2019

Your heart is racing, your hands are sweating, your ears are glowing - don't blink now, but look your counterpart in the eye! This lying tactic is so important that it is taught to young children. We spend all of our childhood and adolescence on becoming masters at fooling around. And this despite the fact that honesty is such a valuable asset in our society that parents emphatically condemn and punish lies.

The swindles start at the age of two

Even very young children can get dizzy.

No matter how strict the upbringing is, how high the morale is, children learn to lie, and do so very early on. Very young children say what they think is the truth straightforward. But cheating begins at the age of two or three. And the older children get, the more often they lie. At the age of two, around twenty percent of children fool, at three fifty percent and at four ninety percent. This was the conclusion of a 2010 study by the University of Toronto. Professor Kang Lee from the Institute of Child Study there examined 1,200 children between the ages of two and 16 - and caught most of them whispering cheerfully. But what really interested the psychologist specializing in children's lies was who was really good at lying - and why.

Lied well? Well thought!

Psychologists have long known how important it is to learn to lie. Lying is a complex interpersonal process and, in our society, a skill that needs to be learned. Professor Lee goes one step further: if you lie well early on, your brain evidently develops quickly. If the two-year-old can already construct a targeted lie, then he will also be more successful in adult life.

"Almost all children lie. Those with the better cognitive development lie better because they cover their tracks better. In later life they might become bankers."

Prof. Dr. Kang Lee, Institute of Child Study, University of Toronto

In fact, the quality of lies is related to the level of intellectual development: A deception only succeeds if we can put ourselves in the shoes of our counterpart. In order to be able to lie, one has to have an idea of ​​what the other already knows. Psychologists speak of the "Theory of Mind".

"So that means the ability to put myself in other people's shoes, to assess what other people know and what they don't know. If this ability isn't there yet, then you can't lie because you assume it - and that is what small children do - that everything they know is known to others and vice versa, that is, only when one can perceive this limit, that what I myself know in terms of knowledge does not necessarily have my surroundings, can only then I also use it consciously and deceive or lie around my surroundings. "

Prof. Dr. Matthias Gamer, Chair of Experimental Clinical Psychology, University of Würzburg

Little liars ripe for Hollywood

A loyal look is essential for fooling around.

Voice, language and facial expressions also have to play a role. The wrong expression on your face can reveal the best lie. Convincing flunker stories have certain characteristics and strategies. The savvy expert looks his counterpart straight in the eye while whispering, because it is common practice that a liar avoid eye contact. Even liars in the tender preschool age try to look straight.

Susanna Niehaus from the University of Potsdam reports that children try to speak in a very orderly manner when they lie. "You obviously know that stammering is an indication of a lie." And that blushing or sweating exposes the liar. Despite all caution, they gossip easily. If you want to catch your child telling a lie, just ask for details.

When is a lie a lie?

There is another reason why cheating is not so easy for children: First of all, everything that is wrong is a lie for them, i.e. also a simple error. In preschool age, the lie is then clearly recognized as a lie - and damned: up to the age of four, children clearly classify lies as "bad". But then they gradually learn the social lie.

Darwin was also lied to by his own dwarf

Charles Darwin noticed as early as 1877 that even very young children are fooling around: in his publication "A Biographical Sketch of an Infant" he reports on the lies of his 30-month-old son. He had secretly nibbled on the pickle jar, which he refused to admit.

All adults lie - and the children watch

Lies out of politeness - and the children think their part.

We all lie that the bars bend when the social situation demands it: out of politeness, to spare the feelings of others, to spare them grief. Or because the social rule "show gratitude" outweighs the moral "be honest". It does not matter whether the four-year-old child stands by in such a white lie. The older children get, the more they learn the social skills of white lies. Not only to use them, but also to evaluate them differently: If young people are to evaluate the white lies of others, they no longer classify them as bad, but as necessary. And as an adult, often not even more than a lie. But lying out of self-interest also decreases with increasing age: Among the 16-year-olds, in Professor Lee's study, "only" seventy percent were dizzy.

So the next time your kid is obviously whining at you, what are you going to do? Psychologist Kang Lee's advice: don't scold. There is nothing wrong with catching your child telling a lie. Use the opportunity as an educational moment: Explain clearly to him or her again why honesty is so important and what is bad about lying.

  • "How liars give themselves away": on October 17th, 2017 at 3 pm in "Planet Wissen", ARD-alpha