Polite, instrumental, and dual liars: Relation to children's developing social skills and cognitive ability

Jennifer Lavoie*, Sarah Yachison, Angela Crossman, Victoria Talwar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Lying is an interpersonal exercise that requires the intentional creation of a false belief in another's mind. As such, children's development of lie-telling is related to their increasing understanding of others and may reflect the acquisition of basic social skills. Although certain types of lies may support social relationships, other types of lies are considered antisocial in nature. The goal of this study was to compare several possible correlates, such as cognitive ability and children's behavior patterns, that may be associated with children's (N = 133) use of lies in socially acceptable versus socially unacceptable ways. Children engaged in two lie-telling paradigms: one to measure socially accepted (polite) lies and one to measure socially unaccepted (instrumental) lies. Results indicate that instrumental liars were young with low theory of mind (ToM) scores and had high social skills. Polite liars were the oldest, had high ToM, and had similar levels of social skills as instrumental liars. Truth-tellers and dual liars had lower social skills and moderate ToM in comparison to the instrumental and polite liars. These findings suggest that children use lies selectively to achieve their social goals, and also suggest that children's lying behavior may change from being self-motivated to being other-motivated as they age, which may reflect socialization toward socially accepted behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-264
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Development
Issue number2
Early online date26 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • antisocial behavior
  • children
  • lie-telling
  • prosocial behavior
  • theory of mind


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