Friday 28 August 2009

The Science of Kids

Nick is a 6-year-old boy who doesn???t lie. At least according to his father, Steve. So imagine Steve???s chagrin when he witnessed what a hidden camera had documented in the McGill University laboratory of psychologist Victoria Talwar. In order to win a prize, Nick readily cheated in a game, then lied to cover up his cheating. When pressed, he elaborated on his lie, and he showed not a glimmer of remorse. Indeed, he was gleeful.

Is Nick a ???young sociopath in the making???? Probably not. In fact, he???s fairly typical of 6-year-olds, who lie about once an hour, usually to cover up a transgression of some kind. That???s about twice as much lying as 4-year-olds do, which suggests that kids are learning to lie. Looking at kids of all ages, fully 96 percent are liars. Indeed, Talwar views lying as an important developmental milestone, linked to intelligence.

That doesn???t mean lying is okay, and both father and son know this. It???s uncomfortable to watch Nick squirm through his lies as he digs himself in deeper. And Steve is a fairly typical parent too, in the sense that all parents are very bad at lie detection...

Nick???s story comes from science writers Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, who include it in NurtureShock, their delightful new collection of essays on the ???science of kids.??? Though not exactly a parenting manual, the book does offer a lot of useful information on why kids do what they do... Bronson and Merryman???s essay on lying is representative of this engaging volume, in its mix of pitch-perfect science writing and soft-pedaled guidance for parents. Many of their essays???on sleep, racial attitudes, self-control, sibling relations, and more???are animated by actual flesh-and-blood kids, who we meet on an excursion through many of the nation???s top child psychology laboratories. It???s a rewarding and entertaining excursion. NurtureShock is published by Twelve Books, and is in bookstores now.