When Do Children Lie?

Falsehood is easy, truth so difficult.  George Eliot

How confident are you that you can tell when a child is lying?   And what if it was one of your own children?

Though every parent deals with this scenario at some point or other, the question of whether or not a child is telling the truth often comes up in many different settings, including criminal courts, schools, and juvenile detention centres.   It's also a question that many  professionals, including trial judges, schoolteachers, psychologists, police officers, and social workers are expected to answer on a regular basis.   But how effective are these supposedly trained professionals in finding the truth?

While research studies have shown that children can begin using  deliberate deception as young as age 3, the ability to recognize that a child is lying or evading the truth is not as easy as you might think.     Surveys looking at how effective adults actually are in detecting deception in children have turned up some surprising findings.   Much like research looking at how well people can detect lying in adults, most people tend to view themselves as being good at catching lying and often depend on certain cues to decide whether a child  is lying or not.  These cues can include:  inability to meet the adult's eyes, fidgeting, nervousness, difficulty speaking, or facial expressions reflecting the child's fear.   No matter how confident adults may be about whether these cues can help identify lying, their  actual  accuracy in catching liars is rarely much higher than chance.   Even for adults with professional training, such as schoolteachers, psychologists, or child protection workers, the actual track record for detecting deception is far from encouraging.  

To read more, please check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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