Are you a strict, obedience-oriented parent, or are you more of a liberal, independence-fostering mother or father? If you’re more the former than the latter, then science may have some bad news for you – your authoritarian tendencies are turning your children into liars.
According to research by Victoria Talwar, a renowned expert on children’s social-cognitive development at McGill University, strict parenting tends to result in offspring that really know how to deceive. By producing an atmosphere of inevitable punishment for any wrongdoing, the children of these parents learn how to lie in order to escape any punitive measures for their nefariousness.
As will be explained by psychotherapist Philippa Perry to BBC Radio 4 this week, Talwar and her colleagues developed a test designed to identify effective young liars called the “Peeping Game.” Taking her test to two West African schools – one with relaxed rules and one with harsh disciplinary regimes – the pupils were asked to guess, without looking at it, what object is making a noise behind them.
Importantly, the last object makes a noise that is very different from any sound it could actually produce. For example, a baseball would make a squawking noise. If any children knew what this final object was, they were clearly taking a cheeky peek at it when unsupervised.
During the experiment, the supervising adult leaves the room, and upon returning, asks the child two questions: what the object was, and if they peeked at it. Talwar discovered that the more relaxed school showed a distribution of liars and truth-tellers similar to that found in many western schools. However, in the strict school, the children proved to be extremely rapid and effective liars.
Fearing punishment, the lying children have to become good at warping the truth. Ironically, draconian parenting, or teaching, produces the best prevaricators.