The evolution of deception


The evolution of deception
Are deceiving and being deceived just par for the course in being human?

In order to survive we have evolved to coordinate our efforts, it’s virtually impossible to live without the aid of others, as you’ll learn from any survival reality TV show. We are fairly removed from the evidence that would highlight this survival imperative however by virtue of the fact that we rely so much on each at work, at home, in times of need is enough to make anyone take stock of the success of their relationships.

Cooperation vs. exploitation

Cooperating involves assessment and choice. When and why should we cooperate? When it suits us? As a selfless act? For the betterment of the team? Because of the way we are asked? Navigating these choices brings forth questions of our morality and our willingness to put faith in others.

“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.”

Rob Brooks, Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Director of the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, University of NSW, Australia.


Evolutionary biologists and sociologists spend their careers attempting to understand the complexity of  human cooperation and the behaviour that has led us develop the societies we live in.  In a recent study published by The Royal Society, researchers have gotten closer to unpicking the tactics behind deception. Understanding how humans deceive where there is gain to be had by tricking others into cooperation, contributing to how we all operate.

What researchers have confirmed is that ‘tactical deception’, where one person misrepresents information to another, is a common tactic that allows a person to mask their intentions or past behaviour in order to get what they want, essentially eliciting cooperation. This is especially obvious in partnerships where there is an imperative to cooperate or lose all. To some degree we all do this, recount stories or information in a way that colours how others understand the information. When does it become an outright lie? the research is noncommittal in pinning it down but suggest the truth is in assessing actions over time.


There are numerous ways to coerce people into giving you what you want, these range from outright threats, duress and abuse to more subtle persuasion. To what degree would you waiver if its not in your favour to do so? What is considered ethical in the efforts of law enforcement, for example, to draw information form suspects? These questions are perpetually asked as we become societies committed to human rights.



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