Deception in Animals & Humans

Photo credit: PixGood

Photo credit: PixGood

Photo credit: Anthony O'Toole

Photo credit: Anthony O'Toole

Photo credit: Dan Hancox

Photo credit: Dan Hancox

Deception exists through out the animal kingdom and human society, and can enable one to gain access to resources that would otherwise not be available. For example in ritualised competition, individuals reduce the potential costs of combat by using signals of fighting ability to resolve disputes before escalating to physical contact - but these signals may be faked.

Crayfish and fiddler crabs have been known to be dishonest, well at least the males are – they can grow giant claws that signal great strength despite having weakling granny muscles underneath. These giant dishonest claws can win disputes though intimidation alone, and saves on the metabolic cost of growing muscle.

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Photo credit: Buzzle.com

Photo credit: Buzzle.com

Photo credit: Extreme Makeovers Tv Series

Photo credit: Extreme Makeovers Tv Series

Dishonest signaling is not limited to crustaceans. You can see this in the human species too, in any nightclub or pub……. inebriated men puffing their gym-sculpted chests out signaling fighting ability, only to end up flattened on the floor by a 60kg software analyst who happens to be a black belt ninja. Whilst some signals can not be faked - like the elaborate peacock tail – deceptive signals are widespread in human society, within & between the sexes.

On a daily basis in human society, women spend hours painting they're face, donning heels, wearing push-up bras (the list goes on...) to deceive the men of this world they are naturally pimple-free, tall and fertile - men on the other hand, purchase flashy cars & wear heavy gold jewellery to signal they're (sometimes minimal) ability to provide resources. Basically, signals provide a means for individuals to give misleading information to deceive another individual and then gain access to resources that would otherwise be unattainable. Luckily for those on the receiving end, the ability to detect deceptive signals has co-evolved with deceit.

Photo credit: The Conversation

Photo credit: The Conversation

Photo credit: Karwal Tang, Alpha

Photo credit: Karwal Tang, Alpha

Photo credit: PA

Photo credit: PA

Members of the criminal justice system serve as referees who enforce rules against cheating in social or economic exchanges. Referees are not exclusive to humans - in colonies of ants or bees, workers kill members of the colony who try to reproduce. These “referees” serve a similar purpose as those employed to regulate human contests. Team sports, such as soccer or cricket, are cultural extensions of such ritualised contests between humans, but still reflect the fundamental nature of animal competition. In such cases, rules are enforced by referees, whereby punishment of cheating deceivers can, and do happen. For example the infamous behaviour of “diving” in soccer is a prime example of a player faking an injury, (deceptively) signalling to the referee that foul-play has occurred, to gain a competitive advantage over their opposition.

Our lab has a lot of fun investigating the evolution of deception and unreliable signals in human and crustacean societies - many hours spent watching critters battle it out & professional players torpedo roll across the pitch.

 

Selected publications

von Hippel W, Baker E, Wilson RS, Brin L and Page L. 2016. Detecting deceptive behaviour after the fact. British Journal of Social Psychology 55: 195–205

Bywater CL, Seebacher F & Wilson RS. 2015. Building a dishonest signal: the functional basis of unreliable signals of strength in males of the two-toned fiddler crab, Uca vomeris. Journal of Experimental Biology 218: 3077-3082; doi: 10.1242/jeb.120857

Niehaus AC & Wilson RS. In press. Can cheating crustaceans teach us anything about the origins of deception? in Lying: The making of Our World, (ed. Edward Mallot).

Bywater CL, White CR and Wilson RS. 2014. Metabolic incentives for dishonest signals of strength in the fiddler crab Uca vomeris. J. Exp. Biol. 217: 2848-2850; doi: 10.1242/jeb.099390

Wilson RS & Angilletta MJ. 2014. Dishonest signals of strength. In Ed. D. J. Irschick, M. Briffa, and J. Podos. Animal Signalling: a Functional Perspective. Ralph Wiley Press.

Angilletta MJ & Wilson RS. 2012. Cryptic asymmetry: unreliable signals mask asymmetric performance of crayfish weapons. Biology Letters 8: 551-553.

Bywater C & Wilson RS. 2012. Is honesty the best policy? Testing signal reliability in fiddler crabs when receiver-dependent costs are high. Functional Ecology 26(4): 804-811.

David GK, Condon CK, Bywater CL, Ortiz-Barrientos D & Wilson RS. 2012. Receivers limit the prevalence of deception in humans: Evidence from diving behaviour in soccer players. PLOS ONE 6(10): e26017.

Walter G, Van Uitregt V, & Wilson RS. 2011. Social control of unreliable signals of strength in males but not females of the crayfish Cherax destructor. Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 3294-3299.

Bywater C, Angilletta MJ and Wilson RS. 2008. Weapon size is a reliable predictor of weapon strength and social dominance in females of the slender crayfish. Functional Ecology 22:311-316. View abstract here.

Wilson RS, Angilletta MJ, James RS, Navas C & Seebacher F. 2007. Dishonest signals of strength in male slender crayfish (Cherax dispar) during agonistic interactions. The American Naturalist 170:284-291. View abstract here.