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Can You Detect Whether a Child Is Lying Or Not?

Joseph Sparks

16th February 2017

It’s a question that faces parents, teachers, judges, psychologists and police officers on a regular basis. But how effective are trained psychologists at detecting whether or not a child is lying?

Research suggests that children start to lie by the age of three, however, detecting whether or not a child is lying is more difficult. Many people look for particular cues to detect lying, including nervousness, difficulty speaking, inability to maintain eye contact, etc. However, most attempts to detect lying are no better than chance. Unfortunately, even ‘professionals’ rarely produce convincing results.

In a recent review, Gongola et al. (2017) found that the overall accuracy rate for detecting whether or not a child was lying was 54%. Professionals did slightly better than non-professionals, but only just (56% vs. 54%). The results also found the detecting lies in very young children is easier than older children. Finally, the results suggest that an adults confidence in their detection was not related to their actual success.

AQA Specification Link: This study has huge implications for the criminal justice system and the use of children as eyewitnesses, and would make an interesting discussion when discussing factors that affect the accuracy of eyewitness testimony and the role of psychology in the economy.

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Joseph Sparks

Joseph is a Subject Advisor for Psychology at tutor2u. He is an experienced Psychology & Music Teacher, Writer, Examiner and Presenter. He is currently completing a Professional Doctorate in Education and is passionate about the impact of technology on teaching and learning.

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