True Lies


Pinocchio’s truth is that he lies. It is for everyone to see. His nose will tell. We lack that ability of his. It is for better and worse. For parents it can be a nuisance not to see a growing nose when your child is tampering with the truth. Luckily reality will often tell shortly afterwards whether a lie actually had been told – lies will not last. The unfortunate thing is that damage may already have occurred. It would be a relief to know in advance if a lie was to be told: e.g., Pinocchio telling that “my nose will grow (the so-called Pinocchio’s Paradox (1)). It is similar to a child saying: “ No, I will not eat that chocolate”. Knowing in advance if truth or Lie is present would, of course, make all the difference. But we cannot foretell the future; only estimate intentions based on our experience. To detect a lie then comes down to know one’s adherents. So, how well do parents do in detecting a true lie of their sprouts?
The cited study looked at parents’ predictions of their own child’s peeking behavior. It turned out that in almost 60% of the cases the parent could estimate correctly whether the child was lying or not. Mothers did a bit worse and with the child’s age the predictions got worse as well. Almost 60%, that is close to chance.

Would this result hold for teachers and pupils as well? How often does it not occur that a teacher asks before giving an assignment: “And, can you do it now on your own…?”, while the pupil nods in agreement but fears differently. It would imply considerable teacher knowledge of a student or “teacher’s learner knowledge” (3) to spot fabrications. A kind of real-time ‘dynamic assessment’ (4) would be in order to see whether the student speaks truthfully about what is on her or his mind. The best approach seems to be building a firm and stable relationship with a student; but, as the study shows, it still is not a guarantee. Educators and parents tend to think favorably about those who are entrusted to them. The truth is that understanding true lies tells more about intentions than honesty of a child.


Victoria Talwar, Sarah-Jane Renaud & Lauryn Conway (2015) Detecting children’s lies: Are parents accurate judges of their own children’s lies?, Journal of Moral Education, 44:1, 81-96,
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