The Elements of a Scientific Theory of Self-Deception
If you’re fascinated with deception research, genetics, influence, status, and psychology read this paper.
Abstract (Via Trivers @ Rutgers)
An evolutionary theory of self-deception—the active misrepresentation of reality to the conscious mind—suggests that there may be multiple sources of self-deception in our own species, with important interactions between them. Self-deception (along with internal conflict and fragmentation) may serve to improve deception of others; this may include denial of ongoing deception, self-inflation, ego-biased social theory, false narratives of intention, and a conscious mind that operates via denial and projection to create a selfserving world. Self-deception may also result from internal representations of the voices of significant others, including parents, and may come from internal genetic conflict, the most important for our species arising from differentially imprinted maternal and paternal genes. Selection also favors suppressing negative phenotypic traits. Finally, a positive form of self-deception may serve to orient the organism favorably toward the future. Self-deception can be analyzed in groups and is done so here with special attention to its costs.
Introduction & Excerpts (Via Trivers @ Rutgers)
“A theory of self-deception based on evolutionary biology requires that we explain how forces of natural selection working on individuals—and the genes within them—may have favored individual (and group) self-deception”
Whether through a study of one’s own behavior and mentation (e.g., for a novelist’s treatment1) or of societal disasters (e.g., in aviation2,3 or misguided wars4,5), or a review of findings from psychology,6–13 we know that processes of self-deception—active misrepresentation of reality to the conscious mind—are an everyday human occurrence, that struggling with one’s own tendencies toward self-deception is usually a life-long enterprise, and that at the level of societies (as well as individuals) such tendencies can help produce major disasters (e.g., the U.S. war on Viet Nam). With potential costs so great, the question naturally arises: what evolutionary forces favor mechanisms of self-deception?