Photo from Times Online

 Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.  Winston Churchill

The 2 year old in my extended family has progressed, with the development of an increasingly sophisticated vocabulary and understanding, from merely biffing her older sister to blaming her for all sorts of misdemeanours (at times with some justification). Yesterday while alone for a moment she fell off the sofa. When asked the source of her distress, she said ‘Leila did it.’  And where was Leila? At school. Totally innocent.

I frequently astonish young people by declaring that it’s okay to lie – when we’re using our imaginations at least. After all, the most exciting and engaging stories are fabrications. The most interesting people can create different worlds, envisage alternative solutions to problems – and be aware of this ability and when it is appropriate to deploy it.

Of course, a moral stance is an imperative. One important task for society, particularly for parents, is to turn babies into civilized beings — social creatures who can experience empathy, guilt and shame; who can override selfish impulses in the name of higher principles; and who will respond with outrage to unfairness and injustice. People who know the difference between fact and fantasy, integrity and falsehood.

As Bertrand Russell wrote: ‘If we were all given by magic the power to read each other’s thoughts, I suppose the first effect would be to dissolve all friendships’. It is not only children who lie.

The ability to tell fibs at the age of two is a sign of a fast-developing brain. A team of Canadian academics have found that the more plausible the lie, the more quick-witted they will be in later years and the better their ability to think on their feet.

Lying involves multiple brain processes, such as integrating sources of information and manipulating the data to their advantage. It is linked to the development of brain regions that allow executive functioning and use higher order thinking and reasoning.

Dr Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University, and his team tested 1,200 children aged two to 16 years old. They found at the age of two, 20 per cent of children will lie. This rises to 50 per cent by three and almost 90 per cent at four. The most deceitful age, they discovered, was 12, when almost every child tells lies.
These researchers say there is no link between telling fibs in childhood and any tendency to cheat in exams or to become a fraudster later in life.

‘Parents should not be alarmed if their child tells a fib,’ said Dr Lee. ‘Almost all children lie. Those who have better cognitive development lie better because they can cover up their tracks’.

 Dr Lee continues: ‘They may make bankers in later life.’ Well that’s another story of course. You have to wonder if that is the same kind of ‘executive functioning’ that got all the big banks and subprime homeowners into trouble and is threatening to implode the whole economy.

 I shall watch our little one with care!