It seems punishing children for lying only leads to more lies, so what’s a parent to do? After all, in most cases it’s the parents who are passing on the dishonesty to their kids. If only there were a better way to spot a deceitful child before they lie. A recent study conducted at the University of Sheffield has found that children who display better verbal working memory are also better at covering up their lies.

"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,” said Dr. Elena Hoicka, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology, in a statement.

Hoicka and her colleagues analyzed the verbal working memory — the total number of words a person can remember at the same time — and visuo-spatial working memory — the total number of images a person can remember at the same time — in six 7-year-old children. These children took part in a trivia game while being filmed on a hidden camera. As researchers left the rooms, the children participating in the study were given the opportunity to peek at the final answers on the back of a card, something they were specifically told not to do.

Each child’s ability to lie was tested using further questioning regarding the color of the answer on the cards. The correct answers to the game’s questions, which were based on a fictitious cartoon character, and the hidden camera were used to determine which children peeked. Children who were considered “good liars” lied to both entrapment questions while “bad liars” lied about one or none of the entrapment questions.

Children who were considered good liars performed better on the verbal working memory test in both processing and recall compared to children who were considered bad liars. However, there was no perceivable difference in visuo-spatial working memory scores among both good and bad liars. This was attributed to the fact that lying does not involve committing images to our memory, meaning visuo-spatial memory is not important.

"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 more porkies than others,” Hoicka added. “We'll now be looking to move the research forward to discover more about how children first learn to lie."

Researchers speculated that this relationship between lying and verbal working memory stems from how much covering up our lies entails remembering a great deal of verbal information. So in order for a child to be successful at lying, they have to keep track of copious amounts of information while maintaining a cover story for their lies.

"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," said Dr. Tracy Alloway, project leader from the University of North Florida.

Source: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 2015.