The evolution of deception

Ştefan Sarkadi*, Alex Rutherford, Peter McBurney, Simon Parsons, Iyad Rahwan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


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)).

Original languageEnglish
Article number201032
Number of pages1
JournalRoyal Society open science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2021


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


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