July 1, 2007

Lying babies.

Did you know that the human being starts lying at the age of 6 months? Early form of lying: fake crying.

IN THE COMMENTS: Original sin! St. Augustine!

ADDED: Commenter Chris digs out the text from "The Confessions":
Then, little by little, I realized where I was and wished to tell my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not! For my wants were inside me, and they were outside, and they could not by any power of theirs come into my soul. And so I would fling my arms and legs about and cry, making the few and feeble gestures that I could, though indeed the signs were not much like what I inwardly desired and when I was not satisfied--either from not being understood or because what I got was not good for me--I grew indignant that my elders were not subject to me and that those on whom I actually had no claim did not wait on me as slaves--and I avenged myself on them by crying. That infants are like this, I have myself been able to learn by watching them; and they, though they knew me not, have shown me better what I was like than my own nurses who knew me.

31 comments:

Beth said...

I read this last night and my first thought was that we know all this. It's only the interpretation that's new, putting all these familiar behaviors out there with the headline "infants lie at 6 months."

The fake crying example stands out as one that makes me hesitate to accept that label. There are a few things infants do that get an instant response. Crying is one. Is it "lying" to do what you know will bring someone running, or get you picked up and cuddled? Kids laugh at things that make no sense, too. Are they lying, or just maximizing the situation, having learned that adults like it when they make that sound and smile? Is lying the right word for the fact that we're we all working the benefits of communicating from as soon as we figure out that we're distinct from the others around us?

Beth said...

I should add that I am quite sure kids lie at early ages. I did it. I've seen it done. I'm just questioning how much is consciously done at six months, when the ideas of reward and punishment aren't a big part of their lives. As soon as kids learn that some actions bring a swat or a time out or some other negative response, then sure, they lie.

B said...

So, scientific research validating "original sin"?

What happened to the "people are basically good" psycho-whatever?

I guess that Biblical proverb "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child" might just turn out to be ahead of it's time."

Hmmmm . . . let's see - of course there's also "there is none righteous, not one".

And, "All (lit. "every person from the beginning of time") have sinned and fallen short of the standards of God".

But that would be overdoing it . . .

B said...

beth,

I have always been intrigued at the Hebrew commandment, "Thou shall not bear false witness".

That seems to go beyond just saying something that is not true - which we in today's world define as lying.

Bearing false witness would seem to go beyond that to the point of to the point of making certain that one doesn't even allow a wrong impression to be left or held by another.

Wow - who's not guilty of bearing "false witness"?

rhhardin said...

Also, children start planning their escacpe at about age one and a half.

In fact, a poem by Vicki Hearne.

Ann Althouse said...

Seems to me, if your baby isn't lying, you should worry that he's not very smart. Or maybe you're not too smart... or you're so smitten... that you don't notice he's lying. When really young kids lie, it's pretty adorable. A child that fails to perceive that it can say what's not true and get what it wants is just not developing. Moral judgment comes later. A child who can't lie is going to lack the mental wherewithal to engage in moral judgment. You should hope for the day when your baby lies.

Seven Machos said...

Having read this article as well, I came to the exact same conclusion as Beth. I have a little baby right now, and he cries just like that. It's not lying. It's doing what he can with what he has. He wants to get picked up, or he's hungry, or lonely, or whatever. What would be a lie would be for him to cry like that when he doesn't want to be picked up.

I also disagree that lying is sophisticated, which the article says. There are sophisticated lies. But there are also sophisticated truths. The thing itself is just the thing itself. Any idiot can tell a lie. And I see no reason why people constantly believe that people start out as truth-tellers -- children are basically honest, and all that.

Beth said...

A child that fails to perceive that it can say what's not true and get what it wants is just not developing. Moral judgment comes later.

Thanks. That's what I wanted to get at. I don't like calling it "lying" when the moral judgment isn't available to the kid. They just know it's effective, not that it's wrong.

Paddy O. said...

If I recall Augustine mentions this in his Confessions. The proof of original sin and thus led to the development of theology that addressed this, which resulted in massive cultural reactions to address the theology.

Lying babies are, it seems, one of the foundational realities of Western Christian Civilization.

But, it's been a bit since I've read Augustine, so maybe I'm wrong.

Adrian said...

This is one of my favorite videos ever, a true masterpiece in the fake crying genre.

Chris said...

From the article: "Fake crying is one of the earliest forms of deception to emerge, and infants use it to get attention even though nothing is wrong." This seems a little odd: when my six-month-old cries because she wants attention, it seems to me that the lack of attention is precisely something that's wrong, as she sees it. She really is unhappy, and really does want attention.

Jeff said...

Is it lying? Do they have the capability to even know they are being deceptive? Or are they doing the equivalent of pushing a button to get a treat? I would suspect they have only learned that if they make a certain noise, someone comes running. I doubt if they know that the certain noise is to be reserved for when something is wrong.

Joan said...

I'm very familiar with this kind of crying, but I have never called it lying -- it is simply manipulation, "the ends justifies the means." How odd to place a moral judgment on a behavior performed by someone incapable of understanding morality!

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with toddlers knows that human nature is basically selfish and nasty if left to its own devices. Babies need to be civilized... constantly. There is the potential for good in just about everyone, but to believe that that potential always come to fruition is naive at best.

halojones-fan said...

Jeff, I'd go even further than that: They aren't capable of making any other noise, because their mental and physical development hasn't hit that level yet. It isn't as though babies spring from the womb able to recite Shakespeare soliloquies!

B said...

Paddy O.

I believe the quotes you are seeking are in Confessions XV

blake said...

Hmmm. I was just thinking of Confessions, too. Something about the Mark Daniels "thank God" post reminded me of Augustine.

Others have noted the inadequacy of the infant's available tools, so I won't rehash that. But I will add this: Adults mistake absence of data for absence of morality. This gives rise to the myth that they're animals that must be trained (which notion could be discarded simply on the basis of the results it achieves).

Indeed, what does the baby know? It knows that some element is missing in its life. What else does it know? Well, pretty much nothing. From the baby's viewpoint, the crying could be considered a highly moral action on the basis of "You weren't doing anything anyway and you can help right this terrible wrongness".

I've never met a child without an innate powerful sense of justice. The universe immediately schools them on how unfair it is, and the loss of childhood innocence is (from one view) the abandonment of this sense for something more pragmatic.

Like, say, a viewpoint that even the most innocent of babies lie. Which, on the surface, appears to me to like all those documentaries during the Clinton years about how it was "natural" for people to engage in extramarital sex. In other words, someone's trying to excuse bad behavior in the guise of science.

Mr.Murder said...

Lies and the Lying Liars...

the extent to which vocabulary and response is limited appears to determine this method of communication.

Of course, assuming intent has been somewhat inspired this week by John Roberts' court.

This is the truth. Lie to me all you want, Ann. Hope the morning finds you well...

hdhouse said...

failing of course to apply common sense to the matter that crying is only one of about 2-3 potential forms of communication a baby has...it might mean a lot of things ranging from I'm hungry to I'm cold to I have no idea who dented the fender on the the car.

P. Rich said...

Lying schmying. More instinct and conditioning, I would say, on both sides. Parental responses determine what behaviors a baby (as opposed to a child with some developed cognitive ability) will continue to voluntarily exhibit.

Baby cries (for any reason), parent immediately responds with caring attention [repeat], baby is conditioned to associate crying with a desirable outcome.

Piaget said we are born with three innate beliefs: we are immortal, omniscient and irresistible. "Growing up" in a very basic sense is learning these beliefs are false and discarding them. Many never succeed at this. I won't mention any names, or political preferences.

Meade said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l6F_GQTGK8

Paul Zrimsek said...

Since (as the poet said) "Heaven lies about us in our infancy", it's only fair that we should get a little of our own back.

Pogo said...

I began lying in utero. Just to be ready once I started speaking. (I pretended to like Anita Bryant's "Paper Roses" when it came on the radio.)

Ha! Hilarious, even in infancy.

Chris said...

Here's the Confessions--it only has 13 books. Couldn't find anything about lying infants, though there's some stuff about infant misbehavior in book 1 ch. 6 par. 8: "Then, little by little, I realized where I was and wished to tell my wishes to those who might satisfy them, but I could not! For my wants were inside me, and they were outside, and they could not by any power of theirs come into my soul. And so I would fling my arms and legs about and cry, making the few and feeble gestures that I could, though indeed the signs were not much like what I inwardly desired and when I was not satisfied--either from not being understood or because what I got was not good for me--I grew indignant that my elders were not subject to me and that those on whom I actually had no claim did not wait on me as slaves--and I avenged myself on them by crying. That infants are like this, I have myself been able to learn by watching them; and they, though they knew me not, have shown me better what I was like than my own nurses who knew me."

JackDRipper said...

You gotta love this big ole baby.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=BnQ0g4BhHss

I feel his pain.

Ann Althouse said...

JackD: That will always be hilarious.

Chris: Thanks for digging out the text. I'll front-page it.

Maxine Weiss said...

Chris is the son of Althouse.

I remember her son doing a blog post where he seemed to be saying that children were not innocent.

Chris said...

Different Chris.

Meade said...

Same Maxine.

XWL said...

I suppose if an infant can lie before they can talk, then maybe a toddler landlord or cop isn't so outrageous, afterall.

hdhouse said...

please reconcile all this with scooter libby.....now that he has been pardoned we can talk about it.

TMink said...

Lying my ass. "Fake" crying is an operant action that is used to elicit attention. Baby's need attention, it is necessary for them.

What are they supposed to do? Ask for it? Use sign language? Walk over and tap you on the shoulder? All they can do is cry.

The idiocy of some researchers. And saying that children cannot lie before age 4 is more idiocy. Just goes to show, you get in grad school by being good on tests, not a lick of common sense is required.

Trey