Deceit and development

2008-02-29

in Daily updates, Science

An interesting article in New York Magazine discusses the development of lying in children. While one might superficially expect truthfulness to be the greater virtue, deception is highlighted as the more advanced behaviour:

Although we think of truthfulness as a young child’s paramount virtue, it turns out that lying is the more advanced skill. A child who is going to lie must recognize the truth, intellectually conceive of an alternate reality, and be able to convincingly sell that new reality to someone else. Therefore, lying demands both advanced cognitive development and social skills that honesty simply doesn’t require. “It’s a developmental milestone,” Talwar has concluded.

This really isn’t too surprising. It is, after all, the development of strategic thinking that differentiates sophisticated actors from unsophisticated ones, and the ability to avoid revealing strategic vulnerabilities is crucial to effective action in many circumstances.

While parents probably feel as though their children should be willing to trust them with anything, they also need to appreciate the degree to which an ability to mislead is crucial to success in pretty much all significant engagements with strangers, and probably even colleagues and friends. After all, how many dates, weddings, or job interviews is a person liable to get through successfully without a strategic awareness of information and an ability to leverage it through everything from tactful suppression of facts or details to their outright misrepresentation.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Absurd caricature February 29, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Children should honor and respect their parents! Speaking a single lie is a terrible, terrible thing.

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