Evolution of lying

May 16, 2013 by Rob Brooks, The Conversation
Is there a link between our cooperative nature and our love of lying? Credit: jinterwas

(Phys.org) —Ultimately, our ability to convincingly lie to each other may have evolved as a direct result of our cooperative nature.

Thus concludes the abstract of a new paper in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B that considers the evolution of "tactical deception" using a theoretic model and a comparative study of .

I'm interested to see how the news media handle this paper. Because the main conclusion – that lying is a way of exploiting others' cooperative behaviour – seems awfully obvious. But I suspect the true value of today's paper is a bit more nuanced.

Cooperation evolves

Many species – most notably our own – have evolved quite extraordinary capacities to cooperate. We might take cooperation as an obvious of life, but long-term cooperative gain requires a to put aside narrow self-interest in the short term. And that doesn't evolve easily.

Cooperation makes it possible for some individuals to cheat, prospering off the cooperative efforts of others. Cooperate too readily and you might get taken for a ride. Cooperate only grudgingly and you don't reap the benefits of working together.

and find that even the simplest models of cooperation – such as the prisoner's dilemma game, explained in the video below – can lead to complex rules about when an individual should cooperate and when it should try to cheat.

Peer into the natural world, and the range of possible behavioural patterns that have evolved to fetter cheating and allow cooperation to flourish becomes even more complex.

In some species individuals reciprocate directly. Well-fed vampire regurgitate blood meals for starving bats that have helped them avoid starvation (also by regurgitating) in the past. Others reciprocate less directly.

A rat that has been helped by another rat, for example, is more likely to help a third individual to obtain food than is a rat that has not been helped before.

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The prisoner’s dilemma.

And in many animal societies, including bees, ants and naked mole rates, transgressions get punished and cooperative behaviour rewarded.

Humans do all these things too. They also share information – like gossip – and prefer to cooperate with those who have good reputations. This makes human cooperation almost infinitely complex.

Anthropologists go to great lengths to understand how reputations are earned and regulated. In one recent study a team embedded itself in a Dominican village for nearly two years and counted the number of prosocial acts each person engaged in, and how many people they helped.

Misleading others

The new model in the Royal Society B paper – based on the prisoner's dilemma – suggests the evolution of cooperation led also to the evolution of lying.

To be precise, Luke McNally and Andrew L. Jackson of Trinity College in Dublin model the evolution of "tactical deception", or "the misrepresentation of the state of the world to others".

Rather than simply cheating – trying to gain from another's without behaving cooperatively yourself – this model adds another way of operating. By misleading the other individual, one can trick that individual into cooperating.

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Captive vampire bats sharing food by regurgitation.

In looking for an example, I keep returning to perhaps the only memorable line from Ricky Gervais' otherwise forgettable film The Invention of Lying: "The world's gonna end unless we have sex right now!".

In The Invention of Lying, Mark Bellison (Gervais' character) does so well out of his novel ability to lie precisely because the cooperative nature of the lie-free society he inhabits. Lying about the world in order to cheat works well if liars don't get too common or too brazen. If they do, the whole cooperative edifice collapses.

NcNally and Jackson back up their modelling work with an analysis of primate species in which they show the more cooperative species also have higher rates of deception. It is the cooperation itself that permits the evolution of the liar.

This paper might seem a little obvious and more than a little simplistic. It certainly does to me. But models of this nature do a great service by putting our intuitions to the test. And they can later be developed and elaborated to illuminate more difficult questions.

I would like to see if it can help us understand the fine-scale tensions between cooperation and dishonesty in human affairs. There is a lot more to lying than simply misrepresenting the world.

The liar often deceives him or herself as well – possibly in order to put a more convincing gloss on the lie.

Neuroscientist Sam Harris recently published Lying, a short e-book arguing we can both simplify our own lives and build better societies by telling the truth in situations when we might be tempted to lie.

Harris doesn't just mean the whoppers typical of fraudsters, philanderers and politicians. He is especially concerned with the "white" lies that many of us tell in order to spare others discomfort and the corrosive effects they have on societies.

He seems to be advocating we try to build a lie-free world, such as the one in The Invention of Lying. But his suggestions go beyond a hopeful "We'd all be better off if we just told the truth. Mmmkay?".

Harris gets bottom-up processes and the conflict between individual benefits and group functioning. His book is worth a read for his impassioned argument that each of us, as individuals, would benefit from resisting the urge to lie.

I'm not convinced. What would help right now is some theoretic and empirical evidence that showed the conditions under which Harris' prescriptions might work. And that's the beauty of papers like today's one from McNally and Jackson.

Irrespective, a better understanding of how lying evolves, no matter how simple, might do enormous social good.

For one thing it might help constrain the worst dishonesties in politics, public relations and propaganda.

Explore further: Teamwork made Man brainier, say scientists

More information: dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.0699

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3.5 / 5 (8) May 16, 2013
In looking for an example, I keep returning to perhaps the only memorable line from...

No need to look that far.

All ads are based on a fundamental lie. All of them state "buy this, and it will be to your benefit" - when obviously what is meant is "buy this, and it will be to our benefit".

(same goes for your job: "work for me and you get money" means nothing more than "work for me and I get more money out of it than I pay you - which devaluates your gain in relation to mine, making you poorer in relation to me")
1 / 5 (2) May 16, 2013
@Rob Brooks – This is a very nicely worded article. You did a nice job.
I am glad an empirical approach is being attempted for a better understanding of the truth and hope that plotting all this out will help people behave better.

The root of all evil is the lie.

Death and suffering are not evil, but intentionally causing needless death and suffering is.

For us to intentionally cause needless death and suffering we must be in the presence of one or more lies.

When we don't consciously and collectively accept the truth for the importance it is, "the truth is as important as life itself", then life somewhere has a grim existence. When we collectively lie the damage is far worse. Thats how it is. Just look around.

At this point, the world is round. For any person doing science to advocate anything other than a vegan lifestyle they would have to be propagating a is a brazen lie.
3 / 5 (2) May 17, 2013
Im tired of so-called sociologists lacking the understanding that lying is almost pure social disfunction. It's literally competitive, anti-cooperative and anti-social, yet amazingly they can't see the forest for the trees. Lying is a manipulative, poor substitute for genuine relatedness. In other terms, lying is a misrepresenting of reality, therby clouding the 'collective reality'. It doesn't just weaken trust, in hampers progress. It's usually counterproductive, and wastes resources of many kinds. To 'observe' that lying has a useful purpose is an irresponsible conclusion, even an ironic one. Those that draw such conclusions are examples of a large percentage of us that lack the proper empathy for optimal social function. This might be related to the conservative mind.
2.3 / 5 (3) May 17, 2013
Im tired of so-called sociologists lacking the understanding that lying is almost pure social disfunction.

The again 'social' is not the name of the game but passing your genes on. If lying - at some point in the past - enabled an organism to survive while the social ones perished or didn't produce offspring then it is a success - plain and simple (and whether we like that or not).

So lying/parasitism does have a role in the makeup of life - from the most basic to the most complex. And we shouldn't act as if it is an 'aberration'. (At best it is an aspect that we want to minimize in social settings)
1 / 5 (2) May 17, 2013

The again 'social' is not the name of the game but passing your genes on. If lying - at some point in the past - enabled an organism to survive while the social ones perished or didn't produce offspring then it is a success - plain and simple (and whether we like that or not).

Unless, of course, the end suffering for all is greater.

How people can explain workings of rockets and DNA and still not be able to speak properly at all about the truth...
1 / 5 (2) May 17, 2013
Nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution of lying.

Their theoretical model appears to have its factual/ biological basis in eco-evolutionary trajectories at the unicellular level of molecular mechanisms for survival of the species. See for example: Feedback between Population and Evolutionary Dynamics Determines the Fate of Social Microbial Populations: http://dx.doi.org....1001547

Abstract except: "We directly visualize eco-evolutionary trajectories of hundreds of populations over 50–100 generations, allowing us to characterize the phase space describing the interplay of evolution and ecology in this system. Small populations collapse despite continual evolution towards increased cooperative allele frequencies; large populations with a sufficient number of cooperators "spiral" to a stable state of coexistence between cooperator and cheater strategies."

Our existence may be equally dependent on liars and cheating ~ as indicated.
4.2 / 5 (5) May 17, 2013
Unless, of course, the end suffering for all is greater.

And what has that got to do with whether lying is beneficial to the gene or not?

Keep your childrens' stories to the appropriate forums, please (There must be a forum for teletubbies or somethig similar you can go to)

How people can explain workings of rockets and DNA and still not be able to speak properly at all about the truth...

Because rockets and DNA have nothing to do with 'truth'. That 'truth' is just a figment of your deranged imagination.

DNA (and rockets) work. That's all there is to it. If YOU cannot understand why they work then that is not our problem in failing to see 'truth'. It is your problem for being too dumb to pick up a textbook and learn something.
1 / 5 (1) May 25, 2013
What life form exists in isolation? What life form lives without cooperation?
You know all life becomes extinct. Passing genes loses all meaning put in this perspective.
Extending the longevity of human existence suggests humans harbor an imagination to envision a world of cooperation devoid of lying - rid of the desire to control others with means as primitive as weapons.
Lying (displayed and describe as deception and camouflage by "lesser" beings of life) is a relic evolutionary form of survival. When you lie you delete the usage of the word "relic".
You are all up-to-date. You deleted.

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