Would you eat a chicken's foot, toes and all?
Chances are you would, under the right circumstances.
That's because you were taught how to lie at a very early age, and you've been honing that skill ever since. We lie about all sorts of things, usually so we won't hurt someone else's feelings, and many of us have developed strong inhibitions to keep us from being socially unacceptable.
Otherwise, we're likely to tell the truth and blurt out that the chicken's foot that was just served to us by a nice Chinese lady is "bloody revolting," says psychologist Bill von Hippel of the University of New South Wales in Australia. And we'll do it even if she has just informed us that it's her favorite dish, and a delicacy in her native land.
That social blunder makes us an oaf, unable to tell a little white lie that would have spared her feelings.
And it's all because we didn't learn the lessons that mom taught us at a very early age. If you're going to get along in this old world, you've got to know how to lie.
But not to worry. Both studies indicate that we learned that well, and many of us would down that chicken's foot like it was a Big Mac, if the social situation called for it.
In the interest of full disclosure, however, let me state for the record that I would flunk that test in a heartbeat.
Both studies were published in recent issues of Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.
The first study is one of several recent reports showing that we were taught how to lie while we were very young, usually by those closest to us, like mom and dad, and granny. Don't hurt Aunt Gertrude's feelings by telling her you wanted a red car, not a book. Grin and bear it.
But the researchers wanted to take that a step further and see if children who are conditioned to put more effort into controlling their emotions are actually better at it than those who aren't. Psychologists have a term for it that is so hard to say it's, well, disgusting. It's called "effortful control."
Some 62 children, ranging from 3 to 5 years old, were tested to see which ones were better at "effortful control." They were given a present they either liked or hated, then given a tedious chore, like drawing a line at a painstakingly slow pace. Meanwhile, cameras recorded their facial expressions and researchers evaluated their reactions, and their ability to draw that stupid line, even if they were just given a turkey of a gift.
As expected, the children who could put out more effort were better at hiding their emotions than those who were not in full control.
But unexpectedly, there was no significant difference between boys and girls. And the results also show that kids learn fast.
"It is notable that there was considerable improvement in effortful control across even such a small age range,'' according to the report. The lead author is Jessica E. Kieras of the University of Oregon.
That's significant, the researchers conclude, because "effortful control is an especially important component of temperament because it allows children to override natural emotional reactions to facilitate social interaction." In other words, try a little harder to grin and say thanks.
But back to that chicken's foot.