National Geographic: Why Science Says It’s Good for Kids to Lie

National Geographic
Published May 18, 2017

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Co-produced by Kathryn Carlson, videography by Pawel Dwulit, edited by Gabrielle Ewing,

While parents often find their children’s lies troubling—for they signal the beginning of a loss of innocence—Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees the emergence of the behavior in toddlers as a reassuring sign that their cognitive growth is on track. What drives the increase in lying sophistication is the development of a child’s ability to put himself or herself in someone else’s shoes. Known as theory of mind, this is the facility we acquire for understanding the beliefs, intentions, and knowledge of others. Also fundamental to lying is the brain’s executive function: the abilities required for planning, attention, and self-control. The two-year-olds who lied in Lee’s experiments performed better on tests of theory of mind and executive function than those who didn’t. Even at 16, kids who were proficient liars outperformed poor liars.

This video is a part of the June 2017 National Geographic Magazine story, “Why We Lie.”