Are Children Good Liars?
Well, most of us expect children to lie at some point in their life, even if it is just a white lie. According to an article in the Kingston Herald, Queen’s University has just conducted one of the first studies on lying and children with autism.
The study, which has been accepted for publication to the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, was conducted by Queen’s psychology professor Beth Kelly and developmental psychology student Annie Li. The study came up with very interesting results.
Altogether, the study tested 19 children with autism and 30 typically developing children. It is already understood that children, in general, will tell white lies to protect the feelings of others and maintain good standing relationships. However, it was revealed that children with autism will also tell white lies to protect others feelings and maintain relationships, but they are not good at covering up those lies like children without autism.
During the study the children with autism were told they were to receive a great gift, were then handed a bar of soap and asked if they liked their gift. Most of the children nodded yes. These are referred to as pro social lies told to preserve good relationships with others. This discovery was very surprising. Dr. Kelly stated, “There is a notion that children with autism have difficulty appreciating the thoughts and feeling of others. So we didn’t expect them to lie to avoid saying things that may hurt others.”
In a second phase of the study, children were given audio clues and asked to guess what hidden object was making the sounds. Most children guessed the easy clues such as a chicken when they heard a chicken clucking . However, they were then given intentionally difficult clue such as Christmas music or an Elmo doll to test for lying. After the sound was played, the tester left the room. When the tester returned and asked if the child had taken a peek, both autistic and non-autistic children were equally likely to lie. 14 out of 15 autistic children who peeked said that they didn’t and 13 out of 15 typically developed children said they did not peek when they in fact did.
When the children were asked to then guess what the hidden object was, all but one of the children with autism gave the correct answer. The interesting fact is that children without autism realized that giving a correct answer would reveal that they peeked so they were more likely to lie. 7 out of 13 of the typically developed children guessed correctly. However, almost half pretended they did not know the correct answer by guessing something else to cover up the fact that they had lied about looking.
In a related article, “Do you Swear to Tell the Truth?” printed on October 24, 2010 in the Boston Globe, it was found that talking to your kids (typically developed children) about the morality of lying is not a good deterrent in dissuading them from lying. This study revealed that asking a child to “promise to tell the truth”, as adults are asked in a court of law, is a much more effective tool in finding out the truth or having children recant their lies.
So next time you find a child is lying to you rather than dole out a long lecture on right and wrong just ask the child to give you their word.
Do you think that a promise is a very powerful thing? Can it be used in most people to deter lying in general?