Certainly, young people do not have a corner on the market when it comes to lying. Adults lie too. Sometimes selfishly, other times selflessly, in order to preserve relationships. Yet regardless of the age of the deceiver, most people cannot detect deception.
The truth about lies has been consistently explained by the scientific community. Flipping a coin is a frequent illustration of our abysmal lie-detecting prowess. Nonetheless, a significant number of people consider themselves to be excellent lie spotters. Many of these people have something in common; they are parents.
Assessing the Credibility of Children
I meet many of these parents when they show up in the courtroom jury box, ready to perform their civic duty. “Do any of you consider yourselves to be particularly good at judging credibility?” I ask a pool of potential jurors during voir dire. Inevitably, several hands shoot up. When I ask “Why?” in most cases, the answer is predictably some version of “I have kids.”
In some ways, the stated basis for their expertise makes perfect sense. Although it isn´t having kids that magically transforms parents into expert lie detectors, it is observing the mannerisms of one´s own children over time that provides a behavioral baseline against which to compare divergent behavior—which may indicate deception.
Yet relational familiarity is a two way street. Receivers gauge the authenticity of information based on a speaker´s normal behavior, but they also transmit their own clues about whether or not they are suspicious. Deceivers are thus able to improve their craft by practicing deception within close relationships and monitoring reaction for signs of distrust.
In trial, because my jurors and witnesses will not know each other, relational familiarity will not give either party an advantage in the deception arena. Yet because many of my cases have involved child or teenage witnesses, the psychology of adolescent credibility remains relevant.
Research reveals that while many young people become increasingly honest with age, interacting with peers provides an opportunity for those inclined toward dishonesty to refine the art of deception.
Some research indicates that children become more truthful over time. Evans and Lee (2011) discovered a decrease in dishonesty between late childhood and middle adolescence. Truthfulness was tested by leaving children alone in a room and instructing them not to look at answers to a test. After the majority of children peeked, they were questioned to see if they would lie about cheating, and to gauge the sophistication level of such deception.
Evans and Lee speculate the observed increase in honesty as children aged might stem from a higher moral comprehension of lying, leading to confession of transgressions. Alternatively, the reduction in deception as children become older might reflect to a greater understanding and appreciation of the likelihood of getting caught.
More recent research corroborates the link between dishonesty and evolving social priorities. A 2016 study by Lavoie et al. examined the circumstances under which children engage in socially accepted (polite) lies, versus socially unaccepted (instrumental lies). Their findings revealed that children lie selectively to achieve social goals.
– Wendy L. Patrick
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