Humans are born liars: Book

Benefits of lying come at a hefty price.

According to the book, ‘Born Liars’, penned by Ian Leslie, people are “all born liars”. Between the ages of two and four, children’s lies are usually told to avoid punishment. Very young children tend not to be good at lying. Then, at around the age of four something changes, it says.

The book claims that somewhere between the ages of three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half, children learn how to lie with much greater skill and enthusiasm.

According to the book, lying is hard and children who lie well must be able to recognise the truth, conceive of an alternative, false but coherent story and juggle those two versions in their mind, while selling the alternative reality to someone else — all the time bearing in mind what the other person is likely to be thinking and feeling.

It is wondrous that a child of four should be able to do this — if you catch your three-year-old in a well-told lie, be impressed — but don’t congratulate them, it says. However, the number of lies told by children tends to spike among those aged four as they exercise their amazing new powers, but it usually declines during their first school years, as the child receives social feedback.

Kids learn that the benefits of lying (self-defence or getting something they want) come at a hefty price. They find that if they lie too much, teachers and friends lose faith in their credibility and they become unpopular, says the author.

The majority of children learn not to lie instinctively, but a few remain impervious to it. Persistent lying in older children is usually the sign of a deeper malaise, according to the book. If a child is lying habitually after the age of seven, they will probably continue to do so for years to come, even into adulthood, says the author.

According to Professor Nancy Darling of Oberlin University, Ohio, who specialises in the moral development of older children, lying is a “self-reinforcing activity”. If a lie works to get a child out of trouble, he may try it again.

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