Who hasn't told a little white lie or purposely deceived others over the course of one's life. Ever wonder why the moral code of "thou shall not lie," has found its way into our religious and legal systems down through the ages? Perhaps because deception is so intricately woven into our DNA that man needed constant reminders that our darker nature was inevitable.
According to Stephen Pincock at ABC, "Lying, cheating and other forms of Machiavellian skulduggery seem to be the inevitable evolutionary consequences of living in co-operative communities, suggest UK scientists."
Scientists studying the development of co-operative behavior in apes and monkeys believe the animals developed the ability to lie and deceive in order to form coalitions, get food, fight wars and mate.
Instead of viewing deception and co-operation as polar opposites, Luke McNally and Andrew Jackson from Trinity College Dublin say we might do better to think of them as two sides of the same evolutionary coin.
"Deception is an inherent component of our complex social lives, and it's likely impossible to separate the good from the bad; the darkest parts of our psychology evolved as a result of the most virtuous," says McNally.
In the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers presented three options available to our ape ancestors and ourselves. In their scenario you could choose to always cheat and not help others; to reciprocate the help that others offer; or cheat and try to conceal this cheating by deceiving others.
In my previous post, titled, "Game Theory For Monkeys Like Us!" research indicated that 'fairness' came into the play for man and chimpanzees whenever the two parties determined there was an equitable benefit for both. However, this newer research points to the rationale that's behind that decision-making premise.
"When reciprocal co-operators interact with honest cheaters, they spot their cheating and stop co-operating with them," McNally explains.
"However, as deceivers are better at hiding their cheating, reciprocal co-operators find it harder to spot their cheating. This means that the deceivers are able to gain co-operation without having to co-operate themselves, allowing deception to evolve."
The researchers back up this theory with real-world evidence gathered from studies of deception in 24 different primate species where they find that deceptive behavior is more common in species that co-operate more.
"Our comparative analysis shows the more co-operation a species engages in the more it engages in deception, which is what our model predicts," McNally says.
"The correlation between deception and co-operation across non-human primates suggests that co-operation was an important factor selecting for deception during human evolution."
So we humans needn't feel ashamed about our tendency to lie and cheat. After all our innate nature is hundreds of thousands of years old - and to think we can evolve beyond it tendencies in one short lifetime is seemingly futile. So the next time you're caught in that little white lie, might I suggest, you simply respond with: "Sorry, but my DNA made me do it!"