Children with good verbal working memories are better at covering up lies, researchers found in a study of 6- and 7-year-olds.
There was no difference found in visuo-spatial memory between good and bad liars, the study found, because lying generally does not involve recalling images, so visual information is less important to carrying a fake narrative.
"This research shows that thought processes, specifically verbal working memory, are important to complex social interactions like lying because the children needed to juggle multiple pieces of information while keeping the researcher's perspective in mind," Dr. Tracy Alloway, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Florida, said in a press release.
Researchers tested the verbal working memories of 137 children between the ages of 6 and 7 by asking them a series of trivia questions written on a card, and told them that the answers to the questions were on the back of the card in different colors. The researchers then told the children not to look at the answers before leaving the room.
The children were recorded on video while researchers were out of the room, so when researchers came back into the room and asked the questions, they knew which children had looked. When asked what color the answer on the back of the card was printed in, the children with better working memory who had looked said the wrong color, to avoid being caught cheating.
"We already know that adults lie in approximately a fifth of their social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes, so it's interesting to know why some children are able to tell better lies than others," Dr. Elena Hoika, a professor of psychology at the University of Sheffield, said in a press release.
"While parents are usually not too proud when their kids lie, they can at least be pleased to discover that when their children are lying well, it means their children are becoming better at thinking and have good memory skills."