Common knowledge says that parents should discourage their children from lying. However, a little deception every now and then might not be such a bad thing, psychologists say.
A growing body of research has found that lying indicates developmental progress in children, which could signal higher levels of intelligence and empathy. (This is the real reason kids with ADHD lie, especially.) According to a recent paper published in the journal Developmental Science, children who understand that beliefs can be subjective are more likely to lie than children who have a more objective approach to reality.
For the study, a team of researchers gathered a group of preschoolers once per day for 10 days in a row. Each session involved a game in which the preschoolers could win prizes by tricking an adult about the location of the treats, which they had hidden around the room.
Some of the children caught on quickly, consistently deceiving the adult in order to win the game and earn as many treats as they could. As for those who did not understand the strategy? They never figured out how to lie and lost the game every session.
The researchers believe that the children who succeeded at the game had a more intuitive sense into how others think and perceive the world, as well as how those beliefs could be altered by new information. That can lead to important life skills later on, according to NYU researcher Marjorie Rhodes.
“Understanding how other people come to their beliefs allows children to communicate more effectively, to develop better relationships with their peers, and to engage in more elaborate and collaborative pretend play,” Rhodes wrote for NPR. Plus, children with these skills could grow up to be effective teachers and communicators, she says.
For now, the studies in this area remain small and observational. More research is still needed to determine how and why a link between lying and intelligence could exit. Plus, regardless of up sides, most parents want to be able to spot fact from fiction. These telltale clues will almost certainly reveal a liar—even if it’s your own child.