Toddlers who can fib by the time they are two could be the chief executives of tomorrow, according to a scientific proof.
For example, a five-year-old girl in a laboratory test is told not to turn round to see what soft toy was behind her.
Her adult minder left the lab room on the excuse of taking a telephone call.
She swivelled her head to look at the object being asked about. It turns out to be Barney, a cuddly purple dinosaur. When asked minutes later, she denied peeking but said she thought it was Barney behind her.
How did she know?
“Well, God came into the room and whispered in my ear.” Little children who spinl such big fibs should not be a worry for parents.
Scientists have discovered that a child who claims “the dog ate my homework” may have a future career in the City.
Researchers who carried out a study of 1,200 children say the fact that a child has learnt to tell a lie shows they have reached an important step in their mental development.
A majority of the human guinea pigs aged two to 16 told porkies but it is the children with better cognitive abilities who can tell the best lies. They have developed “executive functioning”, which means they are able to keep the truth at the back of their mind so their fib sounds more convincing.
At the age of two, 20% of children will lie. This rises to 50% by three and almost 90% at four.
Parents of troublesome youths may not be surprised that the curve peaks at the age of 12 when almost all of them will be deceitful.
The tendency starts to fall away by the age of 16, when it is 70%. As adulthood approaches, young people learn instead to use the less harmful “white lies” that everyone tells to avoid hurting people’s feelings.
Researchers say there is no link between telling fibs in childhood and any tendency to cheat in exams or to become a fraudster later in life. Nor does strict parenting or a religious upbringing have any impact. Healthy, intelligent children learn to lie quicker, but parents have to learn to distinguish between the harmless makebelieve — such as an imaginary friend — and the fibs told to protect or better the child. There is a “Pinocchio peak” about the age of seven after which it is hard to discern whether a boy or girl is lying without evidence.
Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, which carried out the research, said: “You have to catch this period and use the opportunity as a teachable moment. “You shouldn’t smack or scream at your child but you should talk about the importance of honesty and the negativity of lying.
After the age of eight the opportunities are going to be very rare.” The research team invited younger children — one at a time — to sit in a room with hidden cameras. A soft toy was placed behind them.
When the researcher briefly left the room, the children were told not to look. In nine out of 10 cases cameras caught them peeking. But when asked if they had looked, they almost always said no.
They tripped themselves up when asked what they thought the toy might be. One little girl asked to place her hand underneath a blanket that was over the toy before she answered the question.
After feeling the toy but not seeing it, she said: “It feels purple so it must be Barney.” Lee, who caught his son Nathan, 3, looking at the toy, said:
“We even had cameras trained on their knees because we thought their legs would fidget if they were telling a lie, but it isn’t true.” Older children were set a test paper but were told they must not look at the answers printed on the back. Some of the questions were easy, such as who lives in the White House.
But the children who looked at the back gave the printed answer “Presidius Akeman” to the bogus question “Who discovered Tunisia?” When asked how they knew this, some said they learnt it in a history class.
Joan Freeman, professor of lifelong learning at Middlesex University in London and the author of How to Raise a Bright Child, said: “Clever children are going to be better at lying.
Most youngsters grow out of lying if it is not an acceptable part of their culture.
But if you are running a business when you grow up you might want to get away with something — and not telling the whole truth is on the edge of morality.”
Margaret McAllister, a leading educational psychologist, said: “Just because a child is bright I don’t think they are more likely to lie. But if they do, they will lie better and tell more complicated lies.”