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Study Shows Kids With Better Memories Make Better Liars

PETER DOCKRILL
26 JUN 2015

Children who possess good memory skills are also more adept at telling lies, a new study by psychologists at the University of Sheffield in the UK has found.

The team asked a number of six- and seven-year-olds to play a simple game of trivia with them. The twist was that the kids were given a chance to sneak a peek at the answers on the back of the game cards when they thought no one was looking, but of course they were being filmed by hidden cameras the whole time.

 

With the researchers knowing exactly which of their young volunteers had cheated, the children were then questioned about the answers they’d given during the trivia game. This involved asking them about facts and information that could have only been obtained by peeking at the back of the cards, which allowed the researchers to measure the links between the kids’ working memory and verbal deception skills. The aim was to figure out what separates a good liar from a bad liar at an early age.

The researchers wanted to measure two different types of memory in their experiment: verbal working memory and visuo-spatial memory. Verbal working memory relates to the amount of words a person is able to remember at once, while visuo-spatial working memory is the number of images that can be recalled at the same time.

The results of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology demonstrate that good liars possess better verbal memory skills, although, from this research’s findings at least, there appears to be no difference between good and bad liars when it comes to visuo-spatial memory.

According to the researchers, this pattern suggests that “verbal working memory plays a role in processing and manipulating the multiple pieces of information involved in lie-telling”, whereas image recognition and recall abilities may be relatively unimportant when people are being creative with the truth.

Although the links between memory skills and dishonesty may be disconcerting for some parents - not to mention kids who now know we’re onto them - the research also indicates a potential silver lining for those looking after children.

One of the researchers involved with the project, Elena Hoicka from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, said in a press release: “While parents are usually not too proud when their kids lie, they can at least be pleased to discover that when their children are lying well, it means their children are becoming better at thinking and have good memory skills.”

Not that any smirking grown-ups reading this should be feeling too smug; they’re not off the hook either.

“We already know that adults lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes, so it’s interesting to know why some children are able to tell more porkies than others. We’ll now be looking to move the research forward to discover more about how children first learn to lie.”