Little Liars

Growing up in a small town, going to catechism taught by intimidating German nuns and spending nearly 13 years at a Catholic convent may have just slightly influenced the way in which I view the world and the sense of morality I have come to possess. The ninth commandment calls upon us not to bear false witness; that being not to lie. So while strict German nuns may have regularly snarled that “little liars go to hell” a recent study by Dr. Kang Lee from Toronto University has shown that little liars grow up to be great leaders.

Lying has a bad rap. It’s deemed selfish, deceitful, immoral, manipulative and evidence of bad character. Lie to the courts or a judge and you’ll be held in contempt. Lie to a policeman or detective and you can be charged with perverting the course of justice. Although lying is not seen as a positive attribute, Dr. Lee’s study has shown that children who are able to lie convincingly by the age of two possess above average cognitive skills.

Imagine you’re two and you’re running around the house chasing your cat. The cat scrambles into the lounge trying to escape your sticky toddler’s grasp and jumps onto the coffee table. As you are reaching across the table the cat hisses and you get a fright and jump back. Your arm connects with a crystal bowl and it slips off the table and crashes to the floor. You hear your mother shout and ask what happened before the sound of her footsteps gets closer. The majority of two-year-olds when asked what happened will tell the truth and admit to breaking the bowl. But those who have above average cognitive skills will be able to do something amazing for their age. They will lie and blame the cat.

The brain processes required to tell a lie are underestimated, probably because lying comes so easily to adults. Firstly, an understanding of the situation and the implications are required. Then a believable alternative story which will benefit the liar must be constructed. And lastly the ability to tell the lie in a convincing manner is necessary. For a two-year-old that’s quite an achievement.

Only 20% of two-year-olds would be able to lie to their mother and tell her the cat knocked the bowl off the table. This small group is also believed to grow up to become the most successful percentage of the population – the bankers, CEOs and lawyers in our communities. The fact that this group is often regarded as the most immoral and most likely to lie is a nasty coincidence.  It’s their advanced cognitive ability that sets them apart from their peers, not their ability to bend the truth.

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