“Because he lacks a theory of mind, he has no idea what i’m up to.” (credit: Flickr user Chris)

Theory of mind is the ability to understand that other people have beliefs, feelings, and experiences different from your own. According to a new study published in Psychological Science, children who are trained to consider these concepts gain the ability to partake in the complex thinking required to lie to another for personal gain.

The study in question involved three-year-old children enrolled in preschool in a city in mainland China. The researchers began the study by conducting a hide-and-seek task with the children to identify ones who were already lying and those who hadn’t yet started.

The children were told to hide a piece of candy under one of two cups while the researcher’s eyes were closed. The researcher then opened his or her eyes and asked the child where the candy was hidden. The child would indicate where the candy was hidden by pointing at one of the two cups. If the candy was under the cup the child pointed to, the researcher would keep it, whereas if the child lied and said the candy was under the empty cup, the child could keep the candy.

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