Study shows deceit in animals and humans can be similar Shutterstock

Do you like to tell a fib? Don't worry, it's part of evolution

Trinity College scientists have found that humans’ ability to lie to each other may have evolved because of our cooperative nature.

THE HUMAN ABILITY to lie to each other has been found to be something that is evolutionary. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Edinburgh have shown that the ability to deceive others evolved as a means to extract help from others.

The study shows that lying and deceit by humans is owed to our “cooperative nature”.


The researchers used evolutionary game theory to examine the scenarios in which the ability to deceive others would evolve. They looked at deception and cooperation in a variety of primates from lemurs to chimpanzees. Deception occurs most often in the primate species. They are also the most cooperative, which suggests that our ability to deceive others evolved as a result of our similar cooperative nature.

Their model showed that the ability to deceive others was subject to cooperation being shown by others.

“Master deceivers” can manipulate their reputation through trickery and by gaining help from others without having to cooperate themselves.

Speaking to, Assistant Professor Andrew Jackson said that while he has a background studying organised social behaviour in animals, his research partner, Luke McNally studies human evolution. “The systems are actually quite similar,” he said, adding:

Our research shows that it pays to cooperate, it makes for a better society for people or animals to cooperate with one another. But while everyone else is cooperating, there comes scope to deceive those who are going along with things. If everyone began to be deceitful and if there were more cheaters, it would not be a good scenario.

He added that the research “strikes a chord with people” because people are interested in the human condition. He said:

I think we have all cheated in life, one way or another, or been cheated on. People are interested to learn how and why we interact with one another. This research looks at why people co-operate when others cheat on each other. We found that when we, as people,  decided to co-operate, things got better, but then deceitful behaviour within others came out – but ultimately society breaks down when there are too many deceitful people.

The study has been published in the online journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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