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Wednesday, 15 March, 2000, 03:19 GMT
Unruly children 'are good mind-readers'
boys being disruptive in playground
Disruptive pupils have good social skills, researchers say
Disruptive children often have a good understanding of other people's minds - a skill which helps them lie convincingly and blame others, according to research.

A study indicates that pupils who are the most disruptive in class have better "mind-reading" skills than their well-behaved classmates.

This insight suggests they may be more able to talk themselves out of getting into trouble, because they can better predict how a range of possible "excuses" will be received.

The research was carried out by Dr Jon Sutton of Glasgow Caledonian University, and Dr Edmund Keogh and Michelle Reeves, of Goldsmith's College, University of London.

Getting away with it

They questioned pupils, aged 11 to 13, at an inner city secondary school in south-east London, about their disruptive behaviour.

They also assessed the children's "mind-reading" skills by showing them photographs of people's eyes, and asking them to decide what the people pictured were thinking or feeling.

Pupils who admitted to disruptive behaviour were asked what strategies they used to try to get away with it.

The three most popular were justifying it by "playing the victim" by saying they had a hard life, flatly denying it, or deliberately shifting the blame onto others.

Examples of disruptive behaviour cited by pupils ranged from losing their temper in class, and arguing with adults, to stealing and starting fights.

The researchers found that the more disruptive the behaviour, the more likely pupils were to try to shift the blame onto others.

They also found that mind-reading skill was better in children with a stronger denial strategy.

'They are not oafs'

Dr Sutton said the findings, published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology on Wednesday, suggested that disruptive children were not always as socially unskilled as they were made out to be.

"A child who can claim convincingly that they don't feel bad because they didn't do it may be skilled at controlling their own emotions and manipulating the minds of others," he said.

"They are not necessarily the oafs many people think they are."

Dr Sutton said the research did not suggest that the more disruptive pupils were, the better they were at reading people's minds.

However he said that previous research he had carried out on bullying did indicate that the more skilled a bully was, the better he or she was at understanding the minds of others.

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See also:

07 Jan 00 | Education
Keeping order in class
17 Jan 00 | Education
Anti-social boys most popular
16 Dec 99 | Education
Lying makes you popular
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