Thursday, May 26, 2005

Scientific American Mind: Natural-Born Liars

Scientific American Mind: Natural-Born Liars:

"In 1983 Byrne and Whiten began noticing deceptive tactics among the mountain baboons in Drakensberg, South Africa. Catarrhine primates, the group that includes the Old World monkeys, apes and ourselves, are all able to tactically dupe members of their own species. The deceptiveness is not built into their appearance, as with the mirror orchid, nor is it encapsulated in rigid behavioral routines like those of the hog-nosed snake. The primates' repertoires are calculated, flexible and exquisitely sensitive to shifting social contexts.

Byrne and Whiten catalogued many such observations, and these became the basis for their celebrated Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis, which states that the extraordinary explosion of intelligence in primate evolution was prompted by the need to master ever more sophisticated forms of social trickery and manipulation. Primates had to get smart to keep up with the snowballing development of social gamesmanship.

The Machiavellian intelligence hypothesis suggests that social complexity propelled our ancestors to become progressively more intelligent and increasingly adept at wheeling, dealing, bluffing and conniving. That means human beings are natural-born liars. And in line with other evolutionary trends, our talent for dissembling dwarfs that of our nearest relatives by several orders of magnitude.

The complex choreography of social gamesmanship remains central to our lives today. The best deceivers continue to reap advantages denied to their more honest or less competent peers. Lying helps us facilitate social interactions, manipulate others and make friends.

There is even a correlation between social popularity and deceptive skill. We falsify our resume to get jobs, plagiarize essays to boost grade-point averages and pull the wool over the eyes of potential sexual partners to lure them into bed. Research shows that liars are often better able to get jobs and attract members of the opposite sex into relationships. Several years later Feldman demonstrated that the adolescents who are most popular in their schools are also better at fooling their peers. Lying continues to work. Although it would be self-defeating to lie all the time (remember the fate of the boy who cried, 'Wolf!'), lying often and well remains a passport to social, professional and economic success."

1 comment:

rev.andy said...

yet another lame attempt to link us to chimps.