Emergence of lying in very young children

Dev Psychol. 2013 Oct;49(10):1958-63. doi: 10.1037/a0031409. Epub 2013 Jan 7.


Lying is a pervasive human behavior. Evidence to date suggests that from the age of 42 months onward, children become increasingly capable of telling lies in various social situations. However, there is limited experimental evidence regarding whether very young children will tell lies spontaneously. The present study investigated the emergence of lying in very young children. Sixty-five 2- to 3-year-olds were asked not to peek at a toy when the experimenter was not looking. The majority of children (80%) transgressed and peeked at the toy. When asked whether they had peeked at the toy, most 2-year-old peekers were honest and confessed to their peeking, but with increased age, more peekers denied peeking and thus lied. However, when asked follow-up questions that assessed their ability to maintain their initial lies, most children failed to conceal their lie by pretending to be ignorant of the toy's identity. Additionally, after controlling for age, children's executive functioning skills significantly predicted young children's tendency to lie. These findings suggest that children begin to tell lies at a very young age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child Behavior / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Deception*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lie Detection
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Semantics
  • Verbal Behavior