Clever Little Liars: Kids With the Best Lies Have the Best Memories
August 11, 2015
Children lie. They lie to get out of trouble, they lie for fun, or they lie out of habit. Parents everywhere admonish their children to tell the truth, but lying has its benefits, according to a study conducted by the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. More than 100 6- and 7-year-old children were given tests to evaluate their verbal working memory, and then they were invited to play a trivia game consisting of three questions. Each question was written on an index card, along with four possible answers. The correct answer and a picture were placed on the back.

The first two questions were easy to answer correctly; however, the third question was about a fake cartoon. The children were asked, “What is the name of the boy in the cartoon Spaceboy?” After posing the question, the researcher left the room, leaving the card with the correct answer face down on the table and instructing the children not to look at it.

Video cameras recorded the children’s varying reactions, and approximately 25% of them peeked at the card even though they were told not to. The researcher then returned and asked the children to provide the correct answer and to guess the picture on the back of the card. Those who had ignored the instruction not to look at the card answered both questions correctly, and some of them were able to lie convincingly about how they had arrived at the correct answers.

The good liars were the same children who had scored highest on the verbal memory test, and high working memory scores mean their brains can store and process a higher volume of information than their more truthful peers. These children have the language skill and creativity it takes to lie, cover up the lie, and remember all of its details. According to professors M. J. Kane and R. W. Engle, differences in working memory capacity can predict intelligence and the speed with which a particular skill can be learned.

A child with good verbal memory isn’t necessarily more disposed to lie, but good liars generally have good verbal memory. While parents will likely never condone lying, they can at least see it as evidence of a brilliant mind at work.

What do you think? Are liars really smarter? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!