Why young children can’t lie

As many of you may know, I study a BSc at Bournemouth University. Lately, we have been learning about developmental psychology- which I have to say has been one of my favourite topics so far! I learnt something interesting the other day, which I thought I would share with you all: why young children can’t lie? And why can they learn to do so later on?

The Frugal Frenchie

The answer can be found in a child’s theory of mind. The theory of mind is essentially the ability to realise that not everybody believes, desires and feels the same way you do (Premack & Woodruff, 1978). It’s also useful for predicting and explaining other people’s behaviours and allowing us to be empathic.

Theory of mind develops gradually throughout childhood, which means that some children may be at higher or more developed levels of theory of mind than others.

Why young children can't lie

Here are some examples to show you what I mean:

  • 3-4 months: social perception
    • You may be surprised, but here, children can already start showing signs of theory of mind.
    • They are capable of following another person’s gaze, which shows that they are aware of what other’s are looking at and that it’s not the same as them
  • 12 months: social referencing
    • For those of you with children, let me know in the comments if you’ve noticed this around this age!
    • An experiment called the visual cliff, shows this clearly
      • A child will make a judgement or a decision, based on the reactions of others
  • 12-18 months: intentions
    • In experiments, children around this age started to understand peoples’ intentions
      • E.g. When an experimenter was trying but failing to put a key on a hook, the child would do it correctly, rather than imitating the experimenter, as they instead their intention (Meltzhoff, 1995)

As you can see, the development is slow at first, but when children they get older, they’ll start to show obvious signs for the consideration of others, such as pretend play with toys, or showing empathy.

Why young children can't lie

Before this point, however, children are unable to understand that others know different facts or think different things. If a child knows that they stole the biscuits or drew crayon on the wall, they will assume that the parent will know this too, so they cannot lie.

Those tricksy puppets…. in an experiment by Peskin (1992), they asked 3-5 year olds, with a friendly puppet, what their favourite sticker was. Of course, with no motive to lie, they told the truth. The children were then told that a naughty puppet would come along and steal their favourite sticker. Sadly, when the naughty puppet asked the 3 (and 50% of the 4) year olds, their lack of theory of mind showed, as they told the naughty puppet their favourite sticker and it got stolen.

So there we have it! After the ages of around 3 years old, children can start to lie as their theory of mind becomes more developed, and they realise that you don’t know everything they do!

What do you think? Is this surprising? Let me know your thoughts!

Diary post: my first week of university

As it’s the first week of my university experience here in the UK, I thought I would make a little diary post about it. Hopefully, this will appeal not only to my old uni friends from abroad, who are wondering what it’s like but also for anyone who is just starting university this year.

Diary post: my first week of university

Monday 25th September

Today was my first day of uni. Surprisingly, my timetable seems quite empty with actually Mondays’ being one of the “longest” days of the week. Always bright and cheerful, I started the year with a statistics (or what they refer to as EMSA) workshop and a recap test.

Although I wasn’t happy with the surprise at the time, I’m kind of glad they did one as it made me realise just how much I’ve forgotten! It’s definitely time to get those stats notes out from last year! Compared to my last university, Maastricht, I found statistics much more understandable. Don’t get me wrong, they were fab over there and so intelligent, but here, they simplify everything, gave us a workbook with exercises and a step to step guide.

I really hope they don’t teach the whole degree like this as it may get slightly patronising, but for maths-related topics, which to say the least, were never my forte, this was definitely helpful!

In my introduction lecture, I met with another girl who had transferred from the University of Winchester, so it helped that we were in the same boat. During the summer, I manage to get in contact with a girl that’s already on the course so I hope to finally meet her at some point, despite not having the same schedules.

Tuesday 26th September

Not going to lie, although my lecture today was interesting, I think it’s very irritating being at uni for only an hour. An hour?! Plus, the lecturer ended 10 minutes early so it kind of feels a little pointless.

My motivation is definitely still high and it was about personality, a topic that greatly interests me, but I can imagine in 6 months time, coming in for just 50 minutes will seem a lot more of a chore.

Nevertheless, I finally put a name to my personal tutor too which was useful. I believe I have a meeting with him in a couple of days time so hopefully, he can answer my many questions about essays and the like.

Today he covered the humanistic approach to personality which talks a lot about free will, what our desires are (self-fulfilment, worth etc.) and different theories. Really very interesting! I found one theory in particular rather curious and this was the “hierarchy of needs” (Maslow, 1943), if you’d like more information or a post about it do let me know.

Oh also, I finally met that girl I’ve been chatting on facebook with! I met with her a little earlier before the lecture and she showed me around a little. From an outside glance, the library seems a little disappointing but the new building, called the fusion building, is absolutely gorgeous!

Diary post: my first week of university

Wednesday 27th September

Well, I’ll definitely remember Wednesday’s as “science day!” From 9am until 11am every week, I will be bombarded by two hours of neuroanatomy/biopsychology. This is essentially the scientific study of the biology of behaviour.

In this lecture, seeing as it was the first one of year 2, it covered mostly a recap of everything we should already know. From the basics of “there are 4 lobes,” to a slightly more in-depth look at the components of the hindbrain, midbrain and forebrain.

It was a nice, slow start and easy to follow and understand (a relief)! I always find it difficult to take notes in a more biological lecture as there are always diagrams attached to the slides which obviously can’t be drawn out but always seem relevant and important! Still, I think it went well for a first shot.

Thursday 28th September

I spent the majority of last night doing some extra reading for today’s seminar. This will be my first ever seminar (as the concept wasn’t really used in Maastricht) and I have no idea what to expect!

It ended up being quite a short but sweet summary of Wednesday’s lecture. It did feel a little like being in primary school again, what with working in pairs etc. but I’m hoping that once the difficulty increases, I’ll appreciate that a lot more.

This afternoon, I have a long break and then have a personality seminar. It’s with the same lecturer as Tuesday and afterwards, I’ll have a meeting with my personal tutor. It’s a good time to get some focused studying done and socialise with my new friend!

The personality seminar didn’t add anything new, it mentioned a few assessment techniques with role play, but apart from that nothing of value was added. The meeting ended up being a generic one about how to behave and what not but it ended up being over an hour because of a “plagiarism checker” sheet we had to complete and a worksheet on how to practice shortening sentences. I personally hate things like that so so close to dinner, I wasn’t in the best of temperaments!

Diary post: my first week of university

Friday 29th September

Today’s another long day. To avoid walking an hour, I have to get a lift almost an hour early at the same time as the sibling’s school run. This meant a 7:15 am wake up call for a 9 am lecture. It’s difficult haha.

I had a 9-10 lecture on personality again (we have 2 hours a week per topic) and then later a lecture on statistics, from 2-3pm.

The statistics lecture was one I was dreading in all honesty. Back in Maastricht, they would go step by step but only showing us the formulas as they went. Trust me, once you reach an equation that has 5 or more steps before even reaching the point you want, it gets so confusing!

The guy who ran this lecture spoke with no microphone. He was confident, passionate and it actually put a smile on his face. Through his waffling, I could really take in what he was saying, as well as keeping on track with the slides of the presentation.

I left that lecture hall and my first week on a high!

Do you remember your first week of uni? What was it like? If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below.

The Frugal Frenchie x