Are Lying Children Naturally Smarter?
A new study suggests that how well you lie as a child is a strong indicator of how successful you’ll be as an adult.
Research conducted by the Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto indicates the skills needed to tell a convincing lie, such as quick thinking and the ability to use information to your own advantage, demonstrate a highly functioning brain. And the younger children demonstrate these skills, the better developed their brains are.
Are Lying Children Naturally Smarter?
Is Your Child Lying to You? That’s Good
Lying is not only normal; it’s also a sign of intelligence.
Kids discover lying as early as age 2, studies have found. In one experiment, children were asked not to peek at a toy hidden behind them while the researcher withdrew from the room under false pretenses. Minutes later, the researcher returned and asked the child if he or she peeked.
This experiment, designed by the developmental psychologist Michael Lewis in the mid-1980s and performed in one form or another on hundreds of kids, has yielded two consistent findings. The first is that a vast majority of children will peek at the toy within seconds of being left alone. The other is that a significant number of them lie about it. At least a third of 2-year-olds, half of 3-year-olds and 80 percent or more of children 4 and older will deny their transgression, regardless of their gender, race or family’s religion….
Why do some children start lying at an earlier age than others? What separates them from their more honest peers? The short answer is that they are smarter.
Professor Lewis has found that toddlers who lie about peeking at the toy have higher verbal I.Q.s than those who don’t, by as much as 10 points. (Children who don’t peek at the toy in the first place are actually the smartest of all, but they are a rarity.)
My dearest and most precious Shosh and Jaialai:
I hope 2018 finds you well and joyful. Choose to be happy, my sons. Life is suffering (per Buddha), but we don’t have to let the suffering control either us or our lives. We are the authors of our own fate.
In that vein, recent news stories suggest that kids who lie are smarter than average. Lying requires higher brain function for a number of reasons:
[K]ids with better cognitive abilities who lie more. That’s because to lie you also have to keep the truth in mind, which involves multiple brain processes, such as integrating several sources of information and manipulating that information … The ability to lie—and lie successfully—is thought to be related to development of brain regions that allow so-called ‘executive functioning,’ or higher order thinking and reasoning abilities. Kids who perform better on tests that involve executive functioning also lie more.
As interesting as that may be, note that neither Time nor The Atlantic mentioned what The New York Times noted in a parenthetical statement — children who exercise self-control and obviated the need to lie in the first place are the smartest children of the bunch! So, no, the narrative is not that children who lie are smart, but that children who exercise self-control are the smartest.
Other psychological studies have borne this out. For example, the famous “Marshmallow Experiment” by psychologist Walter Mischel of Stanford University and his colleagues. They tempted 4 year-olds with treats, telling them they could eat the one cookie or marshmallow in front of them immediately or wait a little and get two cookies or marshmallows.
“Sometimes experimenters had not even finished talking about the experiment when the kids already ate the marshmallow or cookie,” said cognitive neuroscientist B.J. Casey at Weill Cornell Medical College, who has taken part in follow-up studies on this work. “Other 4-year-olds were able to wait by sitting on their hands and turning away, or creating imaginary friends to distract them.”
Since Mischel’s daughters attended nursery school with many of these children in the study, he began noticing that whether or not the kids delayed gratification appeared linked with many other factors in their lives. Kids who succumbed quickly to temptation often had lower SAT scores, a higher body-mass index and a slightly increased risk of substance abuse later on.
Casey refers to those who quickly gave in as low-delayers and those who can delay gratification high-delayers.
So, the story isn’t really about encouraging your kids to lie or being proud of the fact that their lying is a sign of intelligence. If you want kids to be among the smartest, teach them self-control.
In fact, even the focus on intelligence may not necessarily be the best approach or benchmark for child-rearing.
The Secret to Raising Smart Kids
HINT: Don’t tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on “process”—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life
A brilliant student, Jonathan sailed through grade school. He completed his assignments easily and routinely earned As. Jonathan puzzled over why some of his classmates struggled, and his parents told him he had a special gift. In the seventh grade, however, Jonathan suddenly lost interest in school, refusing to do homework or study for tests. As a consequence, his grades plummeted. His parents tried to boost their son’s confidence by assuring him that he was very smart. But their attempts failed to motivate Jonathan (who is a composite drawn from several children). Schoolwork, their son maintained, was boring and pointless.
Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 35 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.
The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” (consisting of personal effort and effective strategies) rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.
Thus, as I’ve said before, try your best and try to improve a little each day. Don’t worry so much about the immediate outcome. Life is the long play. Work to succeed in life by striving to better yourself day by day.
Exercise self-control. Our instant gratification culture is toxic. Don’t give in to it.
Shosh, as a young child, your mother taught you it was okay to scream until you get what you wanted immediately. For example, as a two-year-old, while in the car, you’d shout out “Two!” and your mom would immediately change the CD to track 2. Grandmother used to tell me that when you guys drove by an excavator, you’d scream and cried until your mother had to turn back and let you look more closely at it. That was bad parenting. She abdicated her parental duties by letting you call the shots. That was lazy of her because it was the path of least resistance for her. She was doing you no favor. Why? By telling you that you can get whatever you want whenever you wanted it, she is preparing you for failure. In life, you cannot do whatever you want whenever you want to. For example, despite our Freedom of Speech, you could get arrested if you shouted “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater when there was no fire. I hope you have gained better self-control and are better suited for success in life.
It’s not just about having self-control over your words, but also your every action. It’s effortful, but success is effortful. If it were easy, everyone would be successful. Look at your mom’s side of the family and my side of the family. Where are they in life and what have they achieved? It is no mistake that more of our side have doctorates and advanced degrees and are in management at major organizations.
Be successful, my sons. Try your best. Try to be better each day.
All my love, always,