Bad News, Your Teen Is a Way Better Liar Than You

Normally when your children exceed your parental mastery of a particular skill, it's something to get excited about. However, one thing that your kids are almost certainly better at than you might be more of a cause for concern than for celebration: teens' talent for inventing lies on the fly.


It might be surprising to think that parents don't have the knack for lying that their kids do. After all, parents get plenty of practice telling little white lies: Santa and his reindeer were here last night! The Easter bunny left this basket of candy! And the family dog retired to a very nice farm! But a new scientific study suggests that Peak Lying happens in a person's tweens and teens, before bottoming out in adulthood.

The researchers set out to study both lying proficiency and lying frequency by polling about 1,000 visitors of all ages at a science museum. They measured participants' response times after being asked a series of questions (some of which they were to answer with lies), and found that young children and older people are the worst liars, while young pre-adults emerge as the clear winners of the Lying Olympics. Of course, middle– and high school–age kids probably have just as much lying practice as their parents: I'll be at a friend's house! I don't know how that dent got in the car door!

The study also found that teens were the most frequent liars, but it's hard to know how meaningful this part of the results could possibly be: Numbers were self-reported by the study's participants based on their recent memory. And if there are two things that can be reliably counted on to be unreliable, it's human memory, and people's attempts to save face by not making themselves sound like lying liars to a bunch of researchers.

So why are teens such terrific and possibly prolific liars? It might be because lying is a pretty demanding activity on the old brainpan: You have to invent a tiny new piece of reality on the spot, and then (hopefully) keep track of it in order to be consistent when questioned. Or it might be related to how the human brain handles inhibiting itself based on age: As you may have noticed, teenagers tend make a lot of questionable choices related to things other than lying, too.

Whatever the reason, sorry: Your teenager is probably a better liar than you. But the real question is: When will someone do a lying-proficiency study on the current lot of presidential candidates?


Image via © Mark Scoggins/Corbis

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