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Lying - an exciting game for children

Lying - an exciting game for children Lying - an exciting game for children
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The Moral Animal Why We Are the Way We Are
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The Moral Animal Why We Are the Way We Are
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Certainly Darwin seems to have been a natural-born liar —"much given to inventing deliberate falsehoods." For instance, "I once gathered much valuable fruit from my Father's trees and hid them in the shrubbery, and then ran in breathless haste to spread the news that I had discovered a hoard of stolen fruit." (As, in a sense, he had.) He rarely took a walk without claiming to have seen "a pheasant or some strange bird," whether or not this was true. And he once told a boy "that I could produce variously coloured Polyanthuses and Primroses by watering them with certain coloured fluids, which was of course a monstrous fable, and had never been tried by me. "The idea here is that childhood lies are not just a phase of harmless delinquency we pass smoothly through, but the first in a series of test runs for self-serving dishonesty. Through positive reinforcement (for undetected and fruitful lies) and negative reinforcement (for lies that peers uncover, or through the reprimand of kin) we learn what we can and can't get away with, and what our kin do and don't consider judicious deceit.

(...) Children, it seems, will keep lying unless strongly discouraged. Not only are children whose parents often lie more likely than average to become chronic liars; so too are children who simply lack close parental supervision.

If parents refrain from discouraging the kinds of lies that have proven useful to them—and if they tell such lies in the presence of their children—they are giving an advanced course in lying.

One psychologist has written, "No doubt lying is exciting; that is, the manipulation itself, rather than the benefits that result from it, may spur children to lie." This dichotomy is misleading. It is presumably because of the benefits of skillful lying that natural selection has made experimental lying exciting. Once again: natural selection does the "thinking"; we do the doing. Darwin recalled making up stories for "the pure pleasure of exciting attention & surprise." On the one hand, "these lies, when not detected, I presume excited my attention [and] by having produced great effect on my mind, gave pleasure, like a tragedy." [but] on the other hand, at times they left him feeling shameful. 

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