A study by Dr. Vasudevi Reddy, of the Psychology Department at the University of Portsmouth, showed babies learn to lie before they learn to speak. Her conclusions were reported in the April 2007 edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
Dr. Reddy stated that lying started as early as six months. She says through trial and error, babies gain a better understanding in what situations lies work best and by seven months many infants are skilled in the art of deceit.
Reddy’s conclusion flies in the face of many behavioral psychologists who — convinced of man’s eternal goodness — don’t believe children start lying until they are four years of age or older, when their brains are more developed. (By this age some argue lying is a learned behavior not an innate one.)
But others, mostly parents, have had nagging suspicions that their sweet, innocent child had a dark side.
In the course of her research, Reddy studied 50 children and did extensive interviews with their parents. Through this process, Reddy identified a number of different stages of lying in infants:
This included the six to eight month range, when children use “fake” laughing and crying to gain attention.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Reddy said:
“Fake crying is one of the earliest forms of deception to emerge, and infants use it to get attention even though nothing is wrong. You can tell, as they will pause while they wait to hear if their mother is responding, before crying again.
“It demonstrates they’re clearly able to distinguish that what they are doing will have an effect. This is essentially what all adults do when they tell lies, except in adults it becomes morally loaded.”
One mother reported hearing her baby crying, thinking it sounded a bit fake, she watched her daughter through a crack in the door and noticed her pause several times as she seemed to be checking if her cries were being responded to.
By eight months, children have graduated to the next level. One mother told Reddy her 11-month old child was forbidden from playing with the plant soil. The child was caught in the act of reaching for a handful of dirt, and as soon as he saw mom in the room his outstretched hand turned into a wave.
Another 11-month old — when told to eat toast — held steady eye contact with her mother, while quietly dropping the toast to the floor.
By two years, the child has moved to more complicated rouges where they claim they don’t care about the consequences of bad behavior when in fact they do.
Reddy’s study confirms one of the major themes of the Bible that man is born with a sin nature.
But though children are born with a natural instinct for sin, according to the Bible they have no awareness that what they are doing is wrong.
When due to unbelief, Israel refused to enter the Promised Land under Moses, God condemned the nation to wander the desert until the unbelieving generation had died off. Moses explains in Deuteronomy 1:35-39, that the only ones exempt from this judgment would be Joshua and Caleb who believed and the “little one” who “have no knowledge of good and evil” (v 39 NASV).
Though born with a sin nature, the children’s lack of understanding prevented them from being judged in the same way as their parents. The same principle would apply to young children who die, since they do not know good or evil, they would be spared spiritual judgment.
The knowledge of good and evil
So what does the “knowledge of good and evil” to refer to?
To understand this principle we must look at when sin first entered human existence — the story of Adam and Eve.
In the Garden of Eden, God warned Adam and Eve that they could eat of every fruit in the garden except the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:16, 17). They were warned if they ate the fruit of this tree, they would die.
There are many explanations given about what happened next, and I will simply give you my opinion. When Adam and Eve ate, at that moment they became aware of evil. A sin instinct — complete with inward evil desires — immediately kicked in.
But at the same time, they became aware of “good.” I suspect at least part of this involved the formation of the human conscience. We notice immediately after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, “their eyes were opened” and they realized they were naked. Embarrassed by this revelation, they made loin clothes to cover themselves (Genesis 3:7).
The second thing they felt was guilt and in verse 8, the Bible says they hid from God. These outward manifestations of shame and guilt are indicators of a conscience.
All children develop at a different rate and it’s difficult to know at what point they are fully aware of “good and evil.” Fortunately, those decisions rest with God.
- Babies are not as innocent as they pretend by Richard Gray (www.telegraph.co.uk: July 1, 2007)
- Sneaky babies learn to lie before they learn to talk by Rebecca Dube (Globe and Mail: July 3, 2007)