Capacity for deception in humans is an evolved trait

Just reproducing here something from Bruce Shneier's Crypo-Gram newsletter because it is worth reproducing.


"The Folly of Fools,: by the biologist Robert Trivers. Trivers has studied self-deception in humans, and asks how it evolved to be so pervasive. Humans are masters at self-deception. We regularly deceive ourselves in a variety of different circumstances. But why? How is it possible for self-deception -- perceiving reality to be different than it really is -- to have survival value? Why is it that genetic tendencies for self-deception are likely to propagate to the next generation?

Trivers's book-long answer is fascinating. Basically, deception can have enormous evolutionary benefits. In many circumstances, especially those involving social situations, individuals who are good at deception are better able to survive and reproduce. And self-deception makes us better at deception. For example, there is value in my being able to deceive you into thinking I am stronger than I really am. You're less likely to pick a fight with me, I'm more likely to win a dominance struggle without fighting, and so on. I am better able to bluff you if I actually believe I am stronger than I really am. So we deceive ourselves in order to be better able to deceive others.

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