Study suggests kids who are good liars have better memories

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Smarter Kids Might Be Better Liars

Kids start lying when they're still toddlers, as young as 2 and a half years old, according to one 1989 study. But when, and why, do they start to get good at it? According to a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, some second graders are pretty skilled at covering their tracks, and the superior liars also had stronger verbal working memories — the ability to juggle multiple pieces of information about words and language at once — than their peers.

Photo: Getty

For the study, 114 6- and 7-year-olds were told they were going to play a trivia game, answering three questions; if they got all three right, they'd win a prize. The first two were gimmes: What noise does a dog make? and What color are bananas? The third, however, was pretty much unanswerable without taking a wild guess, as the subject matter was made-up: What is the name of the boy in the cartoon Spaceboy? All of the questions were written on little note cards, with four possible answers on the front. The correct answer, plus an unrelated picture, was written on the back. After the kid had answered the first two questions and was shown the answers on the backs of the cards, the experimenter asked the final question, and then left the room, leaving the final card on the table with the answer side facing down. The child was told not to peek, and there was a video camera hidden in a small cardboard box, recording whether they did.

And here's maybe the most surprising finding from the study: Most of them obeyed! Just over a quarter of the kids ended up peeking, and all of the peekers then gave the correct answer when the experimenter returned to the room. (Spaceboy's name was Jim, in case you were wondering.) But a little more than half of the little liars subsequently gave themselves away, correctly "guessing" that there was a picture of a monkey on the back of the card, something they'd only know if they'd looked.

Photo: Getty

Before the lying task, the kids had also been given tests to measure their verbal working memory. As it turned out, the children with better verbal working memory were also better liars, which makes sense — a brain that has a good handle on language is probably also a brain that can manipulate that language when needed, in order to lie. (Having a strong verbal working memory, however, didn't mean that the children were more likely to lie; the good liars just happened to have better verbal memories.) If you happen, then, to be a parent of a skilled second-grade liar, well, there's your upside for you: At least it's a signal of a top-notch memory for words.

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

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Study suggests kids who are good liars have better memories
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Ben Affleck is seen with his daughter Violet Anne Affleck on February 09, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GONZALO/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30: Actress Katie Holmes and her daughter Suri Cruise attend the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament between the Connecticut Huskies and the Michigan State Spartans at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Kim Kardashian and her daughter North West are spotted as they head to dance class in Woodland Hills, Ca Picture by: Quarterflash/Vantage News 28 May 2015. Picture by: Quarterflash/Vantage News 28 May 2015. Vantage News/IPx
Courteney Cox, right, and Coco Arquette arrive at the LA Screening of "Just Before I Go" held at Arclight Cinemas - Hollywood on Monday, April 20, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
(L-R) Gordon Ramsay, David Beckham with sons Romeo Beckham, Cruz Beckham and Brooklyn Beckham attend the 2011 Teen Choice Awards at Gibson Universal Amphitheatre on August 7, 2011 in Universal City, California.
WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 10: Actor Rob Lowe (C) with Patrick Schwarzenegger (L) and son John Owen Lowe attend the premiere of Columbia Pictures' 'Sex Tape' at Regency Village Theatre on July 10, 2014 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
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Actress Reese Witherspoon poses with her daughter Ava Elizabeth Phillippe (L) and son Deacon Phillippe (R) at the Reese Witherspoon Hollywood Walk Of Fame Star Induction Ceremony on December 1, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Barry King/FilmMagic)
ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 09: (L-R) Kaia Gerber, Cindy Crawford and Presley Gerber attend the premiere of Disney's 'Tomorrowland' at AMC Downtown Disney 12 Theater on May 9, 2015 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: Sophie von Haselberg and mom Bette Midler attend the Off-Broadway opening Night Performance After Party for 'Billy & Ray' at the Vineyard Theatre on October 20, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/Getty Images)
Pax Jolie-Pitt, from left, Brad Pitt, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and Maddox Jolie-Pitt arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "Unbroken" at TCL Chinese Theatre on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP)
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