When Does Lying Begin?

Whether we choose to admit it or not, lying is a part of life (would I lie to you?).   From casual "white lies" to more complicated scams and major deceptions, lying seems to be at the root of a bewildering number of political and economic scandals.  The question of whether someone is telling the truth seems to  comes up time and again in many of our social interactions as adults and recognizing lies becomes a major challenge.

But how early do we learn to lie?  And what purpose does it serve in young children?   While measuring lying behaviour in young children through laboratory experiments has its own limitations,  previous study results suggest that lying behaviour can be seen in children as young as forty-two months.   Anecdotal evidence provided by parents and caregivers suggests that lying behaviour can been seen in children who are even younger although it is somewhat different from the lies we tell as we grow older.

According to a developmental model of lying first proposed by Victoria Talwar and Kang Lee, children around the age of two to three years begin by telling primary lies which are designed to conceal transgressions but fail to take the mental state of the listener into consideration.   Around the age of four, children learn to tell secondary lies which are more plausible and geared to the listener's mental development.   By age seven or eight, children learn to tell tertiary lies which are more consistent with known facts and follow-up statements.

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


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