"Even adults would maybe peek, it's a really tempting situation," Talwar said. "We create that situation because then they can choose whether they confess up to doing it or conceal and lie about doing it."
It is a fascinating experiment, especially considering that the researchers aren't all that honest themselves, telling the kids that they "have to get the phone" as an excuse to exit the room, and then watching the parents who secretly watch their children lie.
Lea, 4, and Aleko, 6, were two recent subjects. Their dad, John, is a police officer specializing in interrogation.
Lea goes first, and chooses to peek.
But when asked if she peeked, she tells the truth, nodding yes.
That has less to do with the fact that her dad is a cop than it does with the fact that she's only four. Most kids that young don't yet know how to lie. They have to learn how to do it.
"You have to be able to remember everything you've said before so you keep consistency in your lie, you can't be caught out," Talwar said. "You have to be able to think, 'Okay, so they think that I did this, therefore they're going to expect my answers to be along these lines' so they have to keep a representation of not only what they really did, but what the other person thinks they did and what that person's expectations would be … it requires a lot of mental flexibility."
Aleko, Lea's brother, peeks too. But when asked he knows he's on the verge of getting caught and figures it's better to not say anything. It's not quite a lie, but he's definitely weighing his options: lie or confess. In the end he chooses to plead the 5th.
"We have to be careful that we don't say 'Oh, it's terrible that the child lies' because adults are doing it too. And it's an adult behavior more so than a childhood behavior. Children are actually more likely to be blunt truth tellers compared to adults," Talwar said. "But the other thing is that children often are picking up on the little lies that we're telling."
Aleko and Lea's father John says lying is a learned behavior. "I think for the most part that kids, you know, they have that innocence and they slowly lose that because of us and everything is a learned behavior and you try and teach them as best as you can," he said.
So what's a parent to do, especially, as Talwar's researcher Arruda pointed out, "when kids realize that they're about to get in trouble and they're going to get punished for whatever they have done, they're more likely to lie."
Talwar sympathizes with concerned parents who tend to react emotionally when their children lie, but emphasized that it's a natural part of development and suggested that families discuss the issue calmly and rationally.
And, perhaps most importantly, "If you want them to be telling the truth then it's important that you're not turning around and lying all over the place as well," she said.