Have a little fibber on your hands? Before you panic about reinforcing right versus wrong, know that the ability to lie well seems to be a testament to your child’s memory.
A new study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that the 6- and 7-year-old participants involved who were masters of the little white lie demonstrated a better verbal memory.
How’d they get caught? Kids took a trivia quiz in a lab consisting of three questions printed on index cards. The answers were printed on the back in a specific color next to an image. After asking the first two questions, researchers turned the cards over to show kids the answers. But after asking third question, researchers left the room before revealing the answer, asking the children not to peek at the card.
The question? The card called for the name of the kid in Spaceboy, a fake cartoon. But the kids who snuck a peek were able to come up with some pretty impressive reasons as to why they knew the nonexistent answer.
“That is my fave cartoon, I watch it every Saturday so I know the character.”
“One of my family members is called Jim so I guessed that was the answer.”
Sure, sure. Of course, the whole study was videotaped, so researchers knew who peeked.
“When we watched the videos, we could see clear differences in their responses based on their working memory skills,” says study author Tracy Alloway. “Those with poor working memory would get worked up when answering, while those with good working memory would even offer explanations for how they knew the ‘correct’ answer to the answer about the cartoon Spaceboy.”
The better liars — those who lied about how they knew the answer and the details on the back of the card (color, picture) — had higher scores on working memory tests. Their higher verbal working memory score in particular reflects their ability to keep their verbal tales straight.
“It takes mental effort to keep in mind what you know you did, what you think the researcher knows, and plan a way so you don’t get caught,” says Alloway.
While you will want to encourage your kids to tell the truth, lying isn’t all bad news.
“While parents are usually not too proud when their kids lie, they can at least be pleased to discover that when their children are lying well, it means their children are becoming better at thinking and have good memory skills," says study author Elena Hoick.
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