When children make allegations of sexual or other abuse how do we know whether they are telling the truth? We usually have them interviewed by a mental health professional and a court evaluator.
A recent study was conducted to determine if adults could ascertain when children were lying. Researchers had 58 children with an average age of four sit in a chair facing a mirror. They were told they were being videotaped. A researcher told the children she was bringing a toy into the room but they were not to peek. She left the toy and then returned and asked the children if they peeked.
Thirteen children did not peek and said they did not. Thirty five peeked and lied about it.
Then 64 adults viewed the video tapes and were asked if the children were lying or telling the truth. On the average the adults were correct about which children were lying only 42% of the time. They were even worse at picking the children who were telling the truth. About half of the adults who were child professionals did better than a chance level.
The conclusion of the study is that adults cannot accurately determine when children are telling the truth or lying.