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The evolution of deception.

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Rutherford, Alex 
McBurney, Peter 
Parsons, Simon 
Rahwan, Iyad 


Deception plays a critical role in the dissemination of information, and has important consequences on the functioning of cultural, market-based and democratic institutions. Deception has been widely studied within the fields of philosophy, psychology, economics and political science. Yet, we still lack an understanding of how deception emerges in a society under competitive (evolutionary) pressures. This paper begins to fill this gap by bridging evolutionary models of social good-public goods games (PGGs)-with ideas from interpersonal deception theory (Buller and Burgoon 1996 Commun. Theory 6, 203-242. (doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.1996.tb00127.x)) and truth-default theory (Levine 2014 J. Lang. Soc. Psychol. 33, 378-392. (doi:10.1177/0261927X14535916); Levine 2019 Duped: truth-default theory and the social science of lying and deception. University of Alabama Press). This provides a well-founded analysis of the growth of deception in societies and the effectiveness of several approaches to reducing deception. Assuming that knowledge is a public good, we use extensive simulation studies to explore (i) how deception impacts the sharing and dissemination of knowledge in societies over time, (ii) how different types of knowledge sharing societies are affected by deception and (iii) what type of policing and regulation is needed to reduce the negative effects of deception in knowledge sharing. Our results indicate that cooperation in knowledge sharing can be re-established in systems by introducing institutions that investigate and regulate both defection and deception using a decentralized case-by-case strategy. This provides evidence for the adoption of methods for reducing the use of deception in the world around us in order to avoid a Tragedy of the Digital Commons (Greco and Floridi 2004 Ethics Inf. Technol. 6, 73-81. (doi:10.1007/s10676-004-2895-2)).


Funder: MIT Media Lab

Funder: King's College London

Funder: Ethics and Governance of AI Fund


deception, disinformation, microeconomics, multi-agent systems, public goods games, tragedy of the digital commons

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R Soc Open Sci

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The Royal Society