Social evolution and social influence: selfishness, deception, self-deception

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University of California at Los Angeles

Social evolution and social influence: selfishness, deception, self-deception

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I. Table of contents 2

II. Rationality, consciousness, sincerity 3

A. Unconsciousness and irrationality: the myth of rationality 3
B. Deception: the myth of sincerity 4
C. Hypotheses of this paper: an overview 5

III. Evolutionary theory 6

A. Ultimate reasons 6
B. The survival of the fittest 7
C. Inclusive fitness and altruism: the selfish gene 7
D. Validity of evolutionary theory for humans 10
E. The influence of group living 11
F. War and intergroup violence: group selection revisited 13
G. Learning and culture 15

IV. Deception and impression management 16

A. Deception 16
B. Countermeasures against influence and deception 17
C. Self deception 19
D. The cost of impression management 21
E. The cost of courtship 24
F. Unconsciousness 25

V. Some Aspects of Raven’s Power interaction
model under an evolutionary point of view 26

A. Motivation: Why social influence 26
B. Coercion and reward 28
C. Referent power 28
D. Expert and informational power of medical doctors 29
a) Weaknesses of expert, informational power and
statistics 30
b) Overconfidence in choice of medical treatment 32
c ) Mistrust towards expert power 33

VI. An alternative utopia 35

VII. Summary 36

VIII. References 38

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A. Unconsciousness and irrationality: the myth of

The model of the human as a “naive scientist”,
a rational decision maker prevailed in Social Psychology for
several years after cognitive psychologists had proved it
wrong by demonstrating a myriad of biases (Kahnemann, Slovic
& Tversky, 1982). The notion that we are basically
rational beings still predominates intuitive and popular
thinking, in spite of proof to the contrary (Taylor, 1989,
Taylor and Brown, 1988, Nisbett and Ross, 1980).

Men tend to value a car more if it is introduced in the
presence of an attractive woman, and we all tend to vote for
the taller and more attractive political candidate (Cialdini,
1993, p.140), and are fonder of people and things presented
to us while eating (Razran, 1938, 1940; cited in Cialdini,
1993, p. 158). In these and similar cases, the targets of
influence, full of honest conviction, vehemently deny having
been influenced by such irrelevant factors.

In spite of numerous findings to the contrary, the myth
of human rationality and consciousness continues to pervade
our thinking and our literature. It was difficult for authors
like Ury (1993) to overcome these ideas: “Because what I
learned at Harvard Law School is that all that counts in life
are the facts– who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s taken
me twenty-five years to learn that just as important as the
facts, if not more important, are people’s perception
of those facts” (p. 18). He concludes that “humans
are reaction machines” (p. 8). Pushing will make them
more resistant. Indirect actions are needed. “It
requires you to do the opposite of what you naturally feel
like doing in difficult situations” (p. 10).

B. Deception: the myth of sincerity

Making the target of social influence falsely believe we
are not trying to push him satisfies intuitive as well as
formal definitions (see Mitchell, 1986) of deception. Only on
rare occasions do authors dare to call manipulative
influencing strategies deception: “Many ploys depend on
your not knowing what is being done to you. . . . If you
don’t realize that he is using his partner as a “bad
guy”, you may agree innocently to the changes”
(Ury, 1993, p. 42). But, generally, the myth of human
sincerity prevails.

“The more common everyday self-presenter who wants
others to perceive, validate, and be influenced by his
selfless integrity, even though he might vigorously deny such
motivation and, indeed, be unaware of it” (Jones and
Pittman, 1982, p. 246). “A tantalizing conspiracy of
cognitive avoidance is common to the actor and his target.
the actor does not wish to see himself as ingratiating; the
target wants also to believe that the ingratiator is
sincere” (p. 236).

I believe that self presentational concerns and
preoccupation with saving other people’s face prevent us from
seeing the pervasiveness of deception. Furthermore, our
egocentrism provides us with the wrong model of human
behavior. Intuitively, we seem to think that human biology
and social dispositions made us apt to be rational scholars
in a just and free society. Evolutionary theorists point out
that our phylogenesis should have provided us with very
different dispositions. Their most extreme proponent, R. D.
Alexander states that “human society is a network of
lies and deception, persisting only because systems of
conventions about permissible kinds and extents of lying have
arisen” (1975, p. 96). Lazarus (1979, p. 47) notes that
there is a “collective illusion that our society is
free, moral, and just”

Evolutionary theory can causally explain why
humans tend to deceive themselves and others about the fact
that they are deceiving. It can tie together all the topics
of this paper: deception, irrationality in human impression
management and social influence techniques. It can elucidate
why we are willing to pay such a high cost for impression
management. Jones and Pittman (1982) state this last point
very candidly: “For many of us, self-promotion is almost
a full-time job.”

C. Hypotheses of this paper: an overview

This paper endeavors to point out that the selfish
interests of individuals caused deception and countermeasures
against deception to become driving forces behind social
influence strategies. The expensive and wasteful nature of
negotiation and impression management is a necessary and
unavoidable consequence of this arms race between deception
and detection. Natural selection created genetic dispositions
to deceive, and to constantly and unconsciously suspect
deception attempts. In a competitive, selfish, and war-prone
world, these techniques, proven in billions of years in
evolution, still are optimal. Therefore they are reinforced
by cultural selection and learning. Conscious awareness of
deception and countermeasures is not required, often even
counterproductive. This is so because conscious
deception is easier to detect and carries harsher sanctions.
Humans not only deceive, but also deceive themselves and
others about the fact that they deceive, into believing that
they do not deceive. This double deception makes the
system so watertight, that it tends to evade detection even
by psychologists.


A. Ultimate reasons

Due to the failure of prior grand theories, psychologists
tend to satisfy themselves with micro-theories, that describe
only a narrow domain. The tend to equate description or
prediction with explanation. Don MacKay (1993) deplores these
limitations and suggests that a true theory should be
“explanatory, not just descriptive.” He complains
that “miniature models have only proliferated rather
than merged” into “ever larger theories.” In
his proposed rational epistemology, “observations often
do not count as scientific facts until a plausible

theoretical mechanism for explaining them is
proposed” (MacKay, 1988).

Nobel prize winner Tinbergen (1963) distinguishes between
proximate explanations (how physiology or behavior
work) and ultimate explanations (why they work this
way). Even if every single cognitive process and every single
neuron connection were known, the question remains, why the
organism is the way it is.

Ultimate explanations historically were the domain of
religions and myths. To my knowledge, evolutionary theory is
the only scientific theory that plausibly proposes ultimate

B. The survival of the fittest

Charles Darwin (1859) established the theory of
evolution. This theory suggests that those species and
individuals that are best equipped for survival and
procreation survive. Genes that determine or mediate a
behavior proliferate, if the behavior helps survival, mate
finding, and finally creation of viable offspring that will
have offspring of its own.

This theory could not explain altruistic behavior.
Altruism is defined as behavior that gives (reproductive)
advantage to another individual at some (reproductive) cost
to the altruist. To solve the riddle of altruism, it was
proposed that individuals act for the best interests of their
group or species.

This “group selection fallacy” is still often
invoked, even though it was soundly disproved (see chapter 4
of Trivers, 1985). A group of altruists would not be
evolutionarily stable. A single individual without the
altruistic “group benefit gene” would reap the
benefit of the other individuals’ altruism without paying the
price for his of her own altruism. And a gene that brings
about a mere 1% higher number of offspring, will, by
exponential growth, crowd out competing alleles and be the
dominant gene within five hundred generations. Therefore, the
altruists would be extinguished and selfish individuals would
take over.

C. Inclusive fitness and altruism: the selfish gene

W. D. Hamilton solved the puzzle of how altruism could
possibly have developed and survived. He recalls that close
relatives, like brothers, parents, sons and daughters have
50% of their genes in common with us. Therefore, a sacrifice
that gives more than twice as much benefit to our brother
than it costs us, has an indirect net reproductive benefit to
our genes, via our relative’s offspring. The reproductive
success that accounts for both direct and indirect (via
relatives) reproduction is called “inclusive
fitness”. Maximization of inclusive fitness “means
that an organism behaves over a lifetime in such a way as to
maximize the copies of its genes, or alleles, which by one
route or another it projects into the gene pools of future
generations” (Irons, 1991). It explains altruistic
behavior of bees and ants, as well as human altruism towards
kin and human nepotism. One theorist said, jokingly: “I
would not give my life for my brother, but maybe for 3
brothers or 9 cousins.”S. Haldane,
see p 30 Daly Wilson sex evolution and

Reciprocal altruism is another way how altruism
can bring about a reproductive advantage. If we can be
sufficiently sure that a favor will be returned to us, a
temporary sacrifice can be to our own long term advantage.
This seems to be so strongly built into human genes (or
culture?) that Raven (1992) calls the reciprocity norm a
legitimate power basis, that tends to be willingly
accepted by the obliged person. It is so strong, that people
used to feel obliged to donate to Krishna solicitors who had
given them an unsolicited flower as a present. (Cialdini,
1993, p. 21).

Equally, the door-in-the-face or rejection-then-retreat
technique (Cialdini, 1993, p. 36), which involves a large
request and then a retreat to a smaller request, makes the
recipient of the request feel obliged to retreat, too. He
gives in to the smaller demand he would not have given in to,
had he been asked directly. These phenomena are often
(proximately) described
but rarely (ultimately)

For the reciprocity rule to be maintained, punishment for
non-compliance is a must, to avoid invasion by cheaters.

“The fitness of the reciprocator must be greater than
the fitness of the cheater” (Kaplan, 1987). And, the
fitness of the punisher must be at least as great as the
fitness of the non-punisher, because otherwise nobody would
take the altruistic task of spending energy to punish
noncompliant people, at a personal cost and for the benefit
of the society. Righteous moralizing indignation seems to be
one of the elements that mediate distribution of punishment.
I believe mob lynching behavior is one such way of punishing
perceived deviants at low cost to the individual involved.

Once compliance with the reciprocity norm has become
automatic, it, works, unexpectedly, even with Krishna
solicitors who cannot punish a non-reciprocator. But, the
arms race between influencer and influencee continues, on a
non-genetic or learning basis. Over the years, most Americans
have become immune to the Hare Krishna adepts’ tactics. The
same tactics, though, are said to be very successful with
still inexperienced and unsuspecting Russians.

If selfish desire to gain personal advantage through
reciprocity is one major reason for altruistic behavior (the
other reason is reputation, which also pays in the long run
(Irons, 1991)), we would predict altruism to be stronger
towards people that we expect will return the favor. Essock,
McGuire and Hooper (1988) at UCLA studied self reported
helping patterns of 300 Los Angeles women. They concluded
that “help was distributed neither randomly nor
altruistically, but in a strategic manner which, however
(un)consciously, favored the biological goals of survival and
reproduction.” For example, rich relatives received more
help than poor ones. Poor people may need more help but it is
advantageous to help rich relatives who have more means to

Additionally, the authors report: “Subjects were
significantly more likely to report that they had
given help than that they had received

help.” In random samples we should expect equal amount
of helping and receiving. Therefore, impression management
and/or self deception were at work. The authors explained the
value of deception and self deception in impression
management: “All else being equal, the individual who
successfully masquerades as an altruistic, beneficent person
would be more likely to attract a mate and friends than one
who displays his or her selfishness unmasked. Likewise, the
individual convinced of his or her own beneficence has a
greater chance of convincing others than the individual who,
with false conviction, attempts to deceive.” This
strategy is optimal both in today’s civilization and in past
evolutionary times. Of course, everyone is, necessarily,
convinced that he does not use this self and other-deceptive

D. Validity of evolutionary theory for humans

The entire book by Trivers (1985) demonstrates the
extremely strong empirical support evolutionary hypotheses
have in biological sciences. Its application to humans finds
strong resistance in social sciences. The reason, I think, is
emotional. Partially, this is due to the fact that
sociobiology has historically been abused for conservative
political purposes, as defense of the status quo, of the
survival of the powerful in society at the cost of the poor.
This politically motivated abuse was based on
misunderstanding, first because evolutionary biologists
describe natural laws but not moral imperatives, and second,
because the poor tend to have lots of viable offspring and
therefore may even have superior fitness.

The only legitimate reason to reject the theory would be
the contention that human behavior is totally
independent of genetics, a position that is being disproved
by twin research at the University of Minnesota (Bouchard
& McGue, 1981, and Segal, 1984, cited in Shaw & Wong,
1989, p. 37).

Evolutionary theory contends that humans have changed
very little over the last hundred thousand years. “Thus,
paleoanthropology, studies of free-living primates and modern
hunter-gatherer societies are important sources of
information about personality dynamics” (Hogan, 1982).
Some behavior, like preference for fat and sweet food, is
very adaptive in a society without overabundant food supply,
but is harmful in our affluent supermarket society. Other
behavior patterns were useful then and still are useful now.
Finally, humans have built in flexibility that often
optimally adapts to new situations.

E. The influence of group living

Historically, people always lived in groups. First, a
“selfish group” confers advantages against
predators: a hawk can only kill one bird at a time, so it is
safer to be among 50 conspecifics than to be alone. Second,
the group is more likely to detect the hawk’s approach and to
escape unharmed. Third, groups of primates and humans can
fend off predators. Finally, groups of men can hunt large
animals. In addition to the obvious nutritional benefits, the
possession and distribution of large amounts of meat proffers
social power. It increases a male’s chances to gain sexual
favors from females, similarly as today’s dinner date.

“The behavior of other pack-hunting animals (e.g.
lions, wolves, hyenas), along with evidence of ritualized
burial practices at least 50,000 years ago, suggests that
hominid social life has been carefully structured (i.e. rule
governed) from the beginning. . . . Every group is organized
in terms of status hierarchy. This suggests that the two most
important problems in life concern attaining status and
popularity” (Hogan, 1982). Status provides
“opportunity for preferential breeding and reproductive
success”. Because “homicide rates among
hunter-gatherers are high even by modern urban standards …
, popularity has substantial survival value.” This
explains a powerful drive for social approval and avoidance
of disapproval and criticism. It also explains

personal coercive and personal reward power,
the power of approval or rejection by someone we value or
like (Raven, 1992), in other words, of a potential ally. In
monkey groups, an allied pair can gain enormous advantages by
dominating an entire group or it can defend females against
more dominant individuals. The stronger one of the pair
usually has to respect the weaker monkey’s sensitivities; he
forfeits the use of coercive power against the ally and does
not take his bananas by force (de Waal, 1987, p. 429).

Shaw and Wong (1989, p. 53) suggest, that weapons
development caused a major shift in human evolution. The
development of arms reduced the cost of attacking (weapons
can even be thrown) while increasing the cost of being
attacked. The “new high costs of within-group aggression
would act to change the character of the dominance system.
Insofar as dominant individuals could not afford to be
injured in rank-order fighting, there would be an increased
selection for social skills in attaining and maintaining
status, and decreased emphasis on overt aggression. . . .
intergroup conflict would select for greatly increased human
capacity to establish and accept group hierarchy as well as
to recognize enemies versus relatives and
.” Thus, in negotiations, it is all important
to be categorized by the other party as a friend (i.e., a
reciprocal altruist), not as a (totally selfish) enemy. Ury
(1993, p. 53) suggests that “stepping on their
side” is an essential step in “getting past
no.” If the target of influence rates us as inimical, we
lose all the subtle power bases that alliance sensitivities
bring with them.

F. War and intergroup violence: group selection

Humans found an additional selection factor that is
rarely found in primates: tribal raids and war. Entire
villages and populations could be exterminated by their
neighbors. Group extermination is one obvious exception,
where group selection can occur. It is not very costly to
have unwarranted suspicion of outgroups a hundred times, but
one single instance of unwarranted trust may spell
annihilation of the individual or even the tribe. A group
that is less aggressive and less suspicious of out-groups is
more likely to be eradicated. So is a group that splits up
easily and cannot maintain a large size.

In an evolutionary perspective, group size increased over
time. The small kin-groups that stayed together for
protection against predators and to hunt large animals fused
into larger groups, “largely or entirely because of the
threat of other, similar nearby groups of humans” (Shaw
and Wong, 1987, p. 54). This required the social and cultural
organization necessary to hold larger groups together.

“The more the brain evolved and the more
intelligence was utilized to insure within-group solidarity,
including the sharing of information, the more the group
would likely have succeeded in driving competing groups into
less desirable peripheral areas. . . . successful human
groups may have been the selective forces which pushed less
intelligently cooperative groups into inhospitable habitats,
severely lessening their chances of contributing to the
genetic future of the species” (Shaw and Wong, 1987, p.

In my opinion, humans differ from animals in that group
selection factors come back into play. There is an exquisite
balance between individual selfishness against other members
of the ingroup and cooperation against the outgroup. It seems
that the enmity and threats from outgroups increase ingroup
cohesion. From the inclusive fitness maximization standpoint
this makes sense. If there is no outside threat, then
individual selfishness against other members of the ingroup
should be the best strategy. If survival of the entire group
is threatened, then, obviously, ingroup cohesion and ingroup
selfishness is in the best interest of the individual. I
believe that rituals, beliefs and religions are pervasive
factors in all human groups, because groups without this bond
would have been dispersed and exterminated. This is
especially noteworthy because virtually every human society
has a religion its members truly believe in while they
laughing off all other religions as ridiculous, absurd and
false. Simple logic can show that at least 80% of the world’s
population have false religious beliefs. I assume that a
mixture of cultural transmission and genetic propensity
maintain these cultural artifacts.

G. Learning and culture

Genetic change is very slow, it takes many generations,
or even millions of years. Therefore we would expect
adaptations to the more “recent” changes of the
last 50,000 years to be based on learning and cultural

But even the “process of learning itself is often
controlled by instinct”, “various animals are smart
in the ways natural selection has favored and stupid where
their life-style does not require a customized learning
program. The human species is similarly smart in its own
adaptive ways and almost embarrassingly stupid in
others” (Gould and Marler, 1987, cited in Shaw &
Wong, 1989, p. 70). “Innate tendencies in mental
development are most obvious (and least disputed) in
humanity’s capacity for learning language and culture, but
they are also evident in the manifestation of phobias or
tendencies to lean toward certain choices over others”
(Shaw & Wong, 1989, p. 67). We humans are blissfully
unaware that we are driven to behave in ways that maximize
inclusive fitness. Because of the advantages of unawareness
of our own deceptive tactics and of our suspicion, I suggest
that innate tendencies made us “embarrassingly
stupid” as far as conscious awareness of these facts is

Opponents of genetic theories often confuse genetic
propensities for genetic determinism. This is a
misunderstanding. People can learn to avoid fatty food
counter to their genetic programming. Even birds adapt the
number of eggs they lay to the environmental conditions. Even
the staunchest plant geneticist is well aware that peas grow
much taller when planted in fertile soil than their
genetically identical brothers and sisters who received
inferior nurturing on bad soil.


A. Deception

Evolutionary theory predicts the inherent selfishness of
the individual. Therefore, we would not expect communication
to develop as a means of informing others of the truth, if
such truth gives the recipient an advantage at the expense of
the sender. Cronk (1991) suggests to “follow the example
of animal behavior studies in seeing communication more as a
means to manipulate others than as a means to inform
them”. In other words, most communication serves for the
purpose of social influence, defined as “change in one
person’s beliefs, attitudes, behavior, or emotions brought
about by some other person or persons” (Raven, 1983, p.

Evolution produced deceptive mechanisms frequently.
Mitchell (1986) lists four levels of deception. Level one is
permanent appearance, for example a butterfly whose tail
looks like a head, so it can escape when a bird attacks its
tail thinking it is its head, or animals that look like wasps
or other impalatable species. Level two is coordinated
action. Examples are fireflies who mimic the mating flashes
of the female of another firefly species in order to prey on
the males. It also includes bird’s injury feigning in order
to distract predators from their nest. Level three involves
learning: a dog who feigns injury because he has been petted
more when he had a broken leg. Deceit may depend on the
deceived organism’s learning, too: a blue jay learns to avoid
a palatable butterfly after experiencing the nausea of eating
the similar looking distasteful one. Level 4 involves
planning: a chimp who misleads about the location of food or
a human who lies on purpose.

This demonstrates that deceit as an influence strategy is
neither new nor a human invention. Second, it is likely that
humans employ strategies as low as level two (body language
signals of strength or submission) or maybe even level one
(immature and baby-like facial features in an adult).

B. Countermeasures against influence and deception

Of course, evolution also favored the capacity to detect
deception, because someone who is not easily deceived has
higher inclusive fitness. “Deceit selects for efficient
mind-readers.” “Bluff by signalers can be countered
in a variety of ways and if honest signals are costly they
may be impossible to mimic” (Harper, 1992).

In interpersonal influence, elaborate stage setting
techniques are often applied (Raven, 1992). My interpretation
of this is that to avoid bluff it is often necessary to
demonstrate that one has the means for the use of power.
Coercive power, for example, requires the agent to show not
only that he has the means, but also the determination and
ruthlessness to carry out his threat. Street gang toughs need
to rough up innocents to gain respect of their peers. And
Adolf Hitler went into maniacal fits to convince the Austrian
chancellor von Schuschnigg he had the resolve to commit crazy
acts of violence and thus coerced him to give in to his
demands (Raven, 1986).

Of course, the next step in the arms race are
counter-countermeasures: how to deceive without being caught.
It is not a good strategy to honestly admit that we are not
truthful. Rather it is more useful that we deny our lies,
deceive about the fact that we are deceiving. This way we can
reap the benefits of a good reputation: according to Anderson
(1968b, cited in Sears et al, 1991, p. 270) the most liked
personality traits are sincere, honest, understanding, loyal,
truthful. The authors of the book do not note the absurdity
of the result and the apparent deceptiveness and self
deception of the respondents. Imagine the husband or
boyfriend of a sincerity-loving respondent to Anderson’s
questionnaire telling her about his attraction to other
women: “Honey, I really enjoyed my visit to the strip
joint”. Or picture her son telling her about his drug
habits or the hate he feels for her. I am certain their
honesty would not be greeted with high praise. Her love for
honesty is quite limited, it is another self deception. In
other words, the appropriate tactic is not being actually
honest as the naive and misguided individuals in the above
examples. Rather, the best strategy is to appear
honest. But who would admit he likes people who appear


My contention that deceit and self deception are the rule
sounds so provocative, because we have large investments to
camouflage deception. But social psychology research
sometimes confirms this unflattering picture: The textbook by
the UCLA professors Sears, Peplau and Taylor (1991, p. 224)
states that “the most influential perspective on social
interaction is social exchange theory”. This theory
proposes that we are “attracted to those partners we
think are best able to reward us” and “try to
arrange our interactions to maximize our own rewards”.
Again, unawareness, deception and self deception are quite
obvious. I have never met a person who told me he likes to be
my friend because he thinks I am best able to reward him.

In summary, we should expect a good strategists to strive
to maintain an image of being a truthful person. He or she
should be prepared to deceive whenever it confers a sizable
advantage versus a much smaller risk.

C. Self deception

If we believe our own lies it is much more difficult to
be caught, because we are not making conscious efforts to
lie. Furthermore, moral codes and laws punish the conscious
lie much more stringently than the “honest” error.

Gur and Sackheim (1979) defined self deception as the
motivated unawareness of one of two conflicting cognitions.
They required that (i) the individual holds two contradictory
beliefs (p and notp) (ii) these beliefs are held
simultaneously (iii) the individual is not aware of holding
one of the beliefs (for example p) and (iv) the mental
operation that determines which mental content is and which
is not subject to awareness is motivated.

They managed to prove the existence of self deception
even according to these stringent requirements. It surprises
me that knowledge of the repressed truth (not p) remains
stored somewhere in the brain. Jokes who induce laughter by
alluding to taboos seem to tap into these secret memories.
Maybe there is a fitness advantage to having access to the
truth. Maybe the truth is required in some emergency

Paulhus (1986) introduces a less restricted definition of
self-deception in a more general sense. He termed it
auto-illusion: an honest belief in a false characterization
of the self, due to cognitive or informational biases. This
term is probably more useful, as self-deception in the most
stringent sense has been shown in only two studies (Gur &
Sackheim, 1979; Sackheim, 1983, cited in Paulhus, 1986).

Paulhus (1986) shows the relationship between self
deception and various other constructs: “The SDQ [Self
Deception Questionnaire] is highly negatively correlated with
standard measures of psychopathology, including Beck’s
Depression Inventory and the Manifest Anxiety Scale.”
This counterintuitive result supports the evolutionary
hypothesis, that high self deception is natural. I propose
that people low on self deception are at such a disadvantage
in social life that this increases their anxiety levels.
Alternatively, low self deception may be a part of
psychopathological personality patterns.

Factor analyses show that social desirability scales
diverge into two factors, into self-deception or
“autistic bias” and impression management or

“propagandistic bias” (Paulhus, 1986).

D. The cost of impression management

It is quite surprising to me, that rarely an author on
impression management and social power ponders about the cost
issue. I don’t just talk about the cost of maintaining an
army or of waging war (coercive power or defense against
coercive power). I am concerned about people wearing Armani
suits in a tropical climate with ties strangling our throats,
when a four dollar thrift shop outfit would be more
comfortable and appropriate to the climate. It is obviously
wasteful to drive an expensive 50,000.- dollar car, when a
bicycle or simple 2,000.- dollar car would do. But, a high
powered real estate broker would undermine his power would he
dare to drive a 1983 Ford Pinto or come to a board meeting
dressed in bicycling shorts. It is important to note that
price, not age or functionality of the car count, because he
or she could get away with driving an antique 1935 Ford.

The time and money spent for this impression management
could be used to directly increase inclusive fitness by
increasing the number or the quality of offspring.

Ury (1993, p. 111) states that “negotiation is not
just a technical problem-solving exercise but a political
process in which the different parties must participate and
craft an agreement together. The process is just as
important as the product. . . . negotiation is a
ritual”. In other words, It takes 3 months of
negotiations, strikes, lockouts etc. to arrive at an
agreement of, say, 5.1% wage increase, a result that could
have been reached in 5 minutes.

I propose that deception avoidance is one of the main
reasons for this drawn out and expensive process.
Participation is an good strategy to minimize the chance of
being deceived.

Jones and Pittman, (1982) contend that the
“trappings of power” reassure the client that the
professional knows what he is doing. If he were incompetent,
he could hardly afford a Lear Jet or a traveling secretary.
“For many of us, self-promotion is almost a full-time
job”, he concludes.

These aspects of intra-species competition can be found
in animals. Deers carry the dead weight of elaborate antlers.
The peacock’s long tails and the stickleback’s brilliant
colors, as well as the songs of birds make these animals more
prone to be preyed upon. Evolutionary biologists think that
expensive signals are more difficult to be falsified. So the
fact that they are wasteful and expensive makes them more
credible. Zahavi (1975) goes even further, he suggests that
the fact that an individual survived in spite of the unwieldy
tail is a signal of his superior qualities. “To avoid
deception, females choose on the basis of characteristics
that second-rate males are incapable of faking, and
that would seem to mean characteristics that cannot be
produced cheaply” (Daly & Wilson, p. 133). A
second-rate deer cannot survive with enormous antlers, and a
second-rate lawyer cannot afford a Lear Jet.

False advertising, when detected, may cause problems for
the impostor. The more dark feathers a Harris’s sparrow has
in his winter plumage, the higher his rank in the dominance
hierarchy. S. Rohwer (cited in Daly & Wilson, p. 133)
asked why low ranking birds do not lie. He painted low
ranking males’ feathers dark. “The dominance hierarchy
is generally maintained without much overt aggression,
but the relative rank of birds of similar status is
occasionally tested. And when advertising is then revealed to
be false, the aggression persists and intensifies. Honesty
seems to be the best policy for a Harris’s sparrow”
(Daly & Wilson, p. 133). Among humans, a homeless person
with an impeccable custom-made suit or a martial arts dud
with a black belt around his waist, would probably share the
same fate: initially undeserved respect, later, when the
bluff is detected, strong aggression.

There are several factors which render these strategies
stable and self perpetuating in spite of their cost. For
example, if all birds of a species raise their feathers in
order to appear 30% heavier and more intimidating, a lone
individual cannot simply step out of the routine. He would be
underestimated and would have to waste energy fighting
adversaries who would usually give in voluntarily.

Similarly, if every successful professional buys the most
expensive car he can possibly afford on credit, the rare
corporate executive who would buy a plain car would be
underestimated by everyone.

An “intelligent” female peacock who would
wisely choose a capable mate that does not have the
impediment of a long tail, would father sons that are
unattractive to other females and hence reduce her own
reproductive success.

Successful sons are especially important because males
usually have more variance in reproductive success.
Therefore, high ranking sons confer more reproductive success
than high ranking daughters, while low ranking daughters
confer more reproductive success than low ranking males.
Surprisingly, statistics show that even in humans the sex
ratio varies with socioeconomic status. In the United States,
in the lowest socioeconomic groups 96 males are born for
every 100 female babies, in the highest about 104 males per
100 females (Teitelbaum & Mantel, 1971, cited in Trivers,
1985, p. 298).

E. The cost of courtship

“Animals – including humans- spend an inordinate
amount of time getting ready to have sex. Something that
could be achieved by mutual agreement in a minute or two is
commonly drawn out into hours, days, even weeks of assiduous
pursuit, comical misadventure, and brain-numbing stress. In a
word: courtship” (LeVay, 1993, p. 57). Due to the fact
that fathering is cheap because one male can fertilize a
large number of females, females have acquired the power to
choose a mate among a large number of male suitors. In using
this power they tend to choose a male who has qualities that
improve the chance of survival of the offspring, either one
who provides “good genes” (the football star) or
who promises to be a “good fathers” (the reliable
husband) who invest in the raising of the offspring. Female
choice actually produces superior offspring- at least in
fruit flies. Experiments have shown that female fruit flies
that had the chance to pick among several males have fitter
offspring than females in the no-choice condition (Daly &
Wilson, 1983, p. 131).

It is well known that human males tend to be deceptive
about their reliability as long term fathers, and both sexes
tend to deceive about their faithfulness. Similarly, in
animals “we may see very costly signals and very
cautious receivers. Courtship displays are often remarkable
for the ridiculous contortions of males and the apparent
indifference of females” (Harper, 1992). I suggest that
the large expense of time in courtship is due to the arms
race between deception and attempts to foil deception.

Actually, sexual reproduction itself seems wasteful.
Males of most species are almost useless, they provide only
sperm. Females who could reproduce genetically identical
copies of themselves by simple cell division would easily
outreproduce sexually reproducing females. A sexually
reproducing couple needs an average of two surviving and
reproducing offspring to keep the number of members of the
species constant. With non-sexual reproduction, two offspring
per mother means doubling the population size with every
generation, increasing population size 128-fold in 7
generations. Researchers of the few asexually reproducing
species arrived at the consensus, that parasites would
quickly decimate the asexually produced identical. The
wasteful effort of sexual reproduction provides needed
genetic variety to resist disease and survive in ever
changing environments (Trivers pp. 315-330).

F. Unconsciousness

Of course, mem are not aware of all these biological
considerations when he courts a woman, and women don’t know
the evolutionary reasons for their choice criteria. As I
said, consciousness is not required for an evolutionary
mechanism to function. In fact, the amount of non-verbal body
language transpiring in social interaction exceeds the
processing capacity of our conscious mind (see Moscovici,
1992, 1981). Nature did not create any species that
consciously pursues the strategy of inclusive fitness
maximization and calculates which actions are most apt to
achieve this goal. Rather our instincts and feelings tend to
lead us in this direction unknowingly (Hogan, 1982).


A. Motivation: Why social influence

Millions of years of evolutionary arms race have
developed optimized and sophisticated influence techniques
and counterinfluence techniques. They are be optimized for
primitive circumstances of hunter-gatherer society. Due to
the flexibility of the human brain, we continually develop
new techniques based on culture and learning (= software) and
not on genetics (hardware). These techniques are usually
optimal for the purpose of inclusive fitness, especially for
avoidance of extinction of the tribe due to war and assault.

I surmise that it is hard to find new influencing tactics
that cannot be found in some other species. Evolution tends
to find all possible strategies in order to occupy diverse
ecological niches. The capacity of the human brain should
allow for a great variety of techniques to be used flexibly
by one single individual. I also allows to elevate the
complexity and flexibility of the strategies to a height that
simpler organisms are not able to. Some theorists (Tooby
& Cosmides, 1992) think that our brain grew more capable
because this way we would be more efficient at detecting
cheaters and deceivers.

Why would one want to use social influence? Raven (1992)
describes reasons like need for power and dominance, for
status, role requirements, desire to adhere to social norms,
concern for image, and desire for attaining extrinsic goals.
It is intuitively clear how all these motivations serve
inclusive fitness and hence are consistent with the model
described so far. Additional motives, cited by Raven (1992),
are attaining of extrinsic goals or desire to benefit or harm
target. These motives usually tend to be in the service of
inclusive fitness, too.

Raven’s model also deals with the question of why would
one let oneself be influenced or why would one resist.
“Needs for independence, for power, for self esteem, may
mitigate against influence, and may indeed lead to
reactance” (Raven, 1992). The evolutionary model would
predict people to resist influence attempts because these
would usually serve the influencing agent’s selfish
interests. “Additionally, the target of influence may be
“concerned about how s/he would look to third parties if
s/he complied” (Raven, 1992). A major factor
contributing to the arrest of drunk boisterous males was the
“presence or absence of female onlookers” (Kipnis,
1986, cited in Raven, 1992). This looks very much like a
straightforward attempt by the drunks to increase inclusive
fitness by impressing the females. The police may be doing
the same. I suppose that the females present were young and
attractive, and not the arrestee’s grandmothers or school

B. Coercion and reward

Coercion and reward come first in Raven’s (1992) list of
bases of social power. (The others are legitimacy, expert,
reference and informational). Coercion and reward function in
animals and were, in simplified form, the bread and butter of
behaviorist learning experiments. Trivers (1985) suggests
that closeness in time between stimulus and reward is the
best heuristic, nature could have found to infer causality.
As a support he cites experiments by Garcia, who demonstrated
that nausea – induced by x-rays- makes rats avoid food
ingested many hours ago and not avoid the most
recently executed action. “In life, some causal
connections involve a long time delay, yet they are important
for the animal to comprehend. . . . the animal gains from the
assumption that bad food or water causes sickness and a whole
series of other activities do not” (Trivers, 1985, pp.
105-106). Consciousness is not needed: nature made us find
pleasurable what helps survival and offspring production, and
aversive what hinders it.

Coercion and reward power require surveillance by the
influencing agent (Raven, 1992). The model of the selfish
influencing agent explains this well: the target tends to
suspect that the agent’s desires are to the target’s

C. Referent power

“Referent power depends upon a person’s
identification with the influencing agent, or at least his or
her desire for such identification” (Raven & Rubin,
1983, p. 413), the influencing agent serves as a model. For
example, we use the type of clothes a famous baseball player
wears. In this case, we would not suspect that the actor
tries to selfishly manipulate us to our disadvantage. Rather,
he is acting independently of us (unless we suspect that he
or she does so as a manipulative display to influence us,
which would undermine referent power ). Referent power needs
no surveillance because the target would feel he or she acts
in his own best interest. Parents often find out that
children do not as parents (in their sometimes selfish
interest) say, but, as parents (without manipulative intent)
act. Children are good at detecting and not following

“manipulative” models, who display behavior with
the intent that children follow the model.

Referent power facilitates learning from positive models
and therefore enhances inclusive fitness. Following the
example of popular people also tends to increases liking by
third parties, which again increases inclusive fitness.

D. Expert and informational power of medical

Expert power involves following the person who knows
best, informational power involves doing what is best for us
after analysis of the facts. If the information is not
perceived as given with manipulative intent (which, alas, is
often suspected), compliance can be explained by the target’s
selfish interest to act optimally, by doing what he perceives
to be correct.

a) Weaknesses of expert, informational power and

Raven (1992) and Raven and Litman-Adizes (1986) deplore
the ineffectiveness of medical expert and informational
power. People behave in unhealthy ways in spite of better

One reason for this is the fact that evolution made us
choose fitness enhancing behavior not as a result of logical
analysis but due to pleasure and aversion. Therefore, it is
hard for us to override our liking of sweets with logical
nutritional information, and to overcome our aversion to
restraint with information about the life-saving features of
safety belts.

Furthermore, there is no evolutionary precedent for peer
reviewed research and unbiased statistics on large random
samples. We are not prepared to value it as highly as we
should. And even this research is not bullet proof, it often
succumbs to the researcher’s basic belief system or his greed
for recognition. The evolutionary precedent of selfishness
and everyone for himself pollutes even academic research.

The evolutionary hypothesis does not merely suggest that
our genetic hard-wiring predisposes us to such behavior.
Additionally, I suggest that our present environment is of
the same kind as before, of individuals using all available
methods to pursue goals to their individual advantage.
Therefore ,the old strategies, based on the survival of the
selfish individual, and tested over billions of years of
evolution, are still the most successful ones, even if those
strategies are not transmitted genetically. Communism failed,
in my opinion, because it is vulnerable to invasion by
cheaters, and because it required pure altruism. Voluntary
and unsurveilled altruism towards non-kin and
non-reciprocators is not an evolutionary stable strategy. In
nature, only closely related individuals, like ants and bees
display totally unselfish behavior. This behavior is
detrimental for individual fitness but has been shown to be
optimal for inclusive fitness.

So why do people tend not to follow doctor’s orders? The
assumption of the arms race between deception and
countermeasures is in agreement with the observations.
Patients are predisposed to distrust the doctor, maybe they
even meet him with more distrust than he deserves. There is
no evolutionary precedent for the kind of controls we have on
medical research. But, mistrust is not totally unjustified.
Human nature’s inherent selfishness lurks and finds its way
wherever it can. Raven and Litman-Adizes (1986) suggest that
“health professionals tended to discourage the use of
informational influence in relating to patients, since it was
looked upon as a threat to the medical profession. . . . .
Indeed, the patient may become more self-sufficient and less
dependent upon the practitioner.” Furthermore,
professional “ethics” tend to defend the
professional’s private interests against the client’s.
Finally, it is intriguing that medical science insists that
today’s state of the art is the truth, and that patients
should trust it. This occurs in spite of the fact, that,
historically, a very large percentage of one decade’s
scientific “truths” turned out to be the next
decade’s untruth or laughing stock.

But, modesty and excessive realism were not advantageous
in prehistoric times. Neither are they today. Self confidence
is impressive, even when it is false. Patient
“satisfaction is inversely and significantly correlated
with the patient’s perception of uncertainty in the
physician.” “Clinicians often equate confidence
with competence, a perception that may be shared by
patients” (Baumann et al., 1982, p. 167). This is also
dangerous in court proceedings, as the “jury may well
accept the opinion of an expert who exudes confidence over
the opinion of an opposing expert who expresses appropriate
caution” (p. 173).

b) Overconfidence in choice of medical treatment

Hence, overconfidence is advantageous for status and
success, and therefore for reproductive success. And, as
predicted, this type of deception becomes automatic and the
influencing agent himself becomes more credible by believing
in his false confidence.

For example, among people with a cough who were diagnosed
as having pneumonia with 88% confidence, only 20% actually
had pneumonia (Lichtenstein, Fischhoff and Phillips, 1982, p.
321). Baumann et al. (1991) tested physicians with precise
descriptions of a woman’s breast cancer case. They found
micro-certainty- a high confidence expressed by the
individual physician about his decision- in spite of great
macro-uncertainty – a great variation of actions across
individuals. This macro-uncertainty expresses the uncertainty
of the profession as a whole. A woman might have a radical
mastectomy, chemotherapy or maybe even no treatment at all,
depending on which doctor she happens to meet. And she will
not be told that the treatment she receives depends on the
doctor’s individual preference, which greatly differs from
other doctor’s choices. “Micro-certainty [. . .] is
likely to mislead patients as to the true state of clinical
opinion, and lessen their role in decision making about their
own health” (p. 173). It may also “impede the
self-scrutinity required to implement quality assurance

As a result of the arms race between deception and
counter measures, expert power’s credibility is enhanced by
the expert’s deceivingly secure attitude and self deception.
Overconfidence seems to be as necessary and adaptive as the
positive illusions described by Taylor and Brown (1988).

Of course, overconfidence backfires when it is exposed.
Therefore confidence should be higher than warranted, but not
exceedingly high. In Baumann et al. (1991), the danger of
detection is minimal. I would predict that high probability
of being exposed decreases overconfidence. If the target was
not an unsuspecting patient but a professor and cancer expert
examining the doctor’s knowledge for continuing education
credit, I would predict greatly reduced overconfidence.

c) Mistrust towards expert power

Mistrust towards influencing agents also can explain
negative expert power: “But it has been observed that
sometimes we may do exactly the opposite of what the
influencing agent does or desires that we do. [What Hovland,
Janis, & Kelley (1953) called the ‘boomerang effect’]. .
. . We assume that he [an aggressive used car salesman] is
using his expertise in his own best interests, not in
ours” (Raven, 1992). In other words, if he warmly
recommends a certain car, it might be the most overpriced or
problematic car in the lot. Honesty does not pay, unless if
it gives future gain in reputation: used car salespeople
often do one shot deals. Selfish defection is the best
strategy in short term relationships, as shown by Axelrod’s
game theoretical work on the prisoner’s dilemma (cited in
Dawkins 1989). In long term relationships, cooperation is
advantageous. It develops so naturally and spontaneously,
that it frequently made soldiers of opposing armies in WWII
trenches cooperate by staging noisy mock shootouts while
actually avoiding to hurt any opponent who in turn would not
hurt him (Dawkins, 1989, p. 228). And people who expect long
term interactions with us are more likely to give honest
information about the car they sell. This does not occur
because of that person’s inherent “goodness”, but
because his selfish long term interests are served best by a
good reputation and continued alliance with us. Of course, he
would not want to admit this to us (=deception) nor to
himself (=self deception)

To summarize: Expert power is prone to be used for
selfish and manipulative purposes, even if the expert denies
this, and even if the expert himself believes that this is
not the case. Therefore it is met with innate distrust, even
when the target cannot point out what the nature of the
suspected manipulation is. The same is valid for
informational power, because information is rarely
free-standing but rather dependent on expert information. A
simple information like: “You should eat apples because
they contain lots of Vitamin C,” implicitly requires the
target to believe that Vitamin C does exist, that it is
contained in apples and that it is good for us.

This mistrust hypothesis would lead to the prediction
that the more the target can verify the data and ascertain
that he or she is not being deceived, the more rationally he
or she will act in his own best interest. The positive
results of the “mutual participation model” (Raven
and Litman-Adizes, 1986) seem to confirm this prediction.


“Imagine all the people live in love and peace”
(John Lennon, approx. 1968). Nothing to live or die for, no
hunger, no heaven and no religion. I would add more points.
Imagine we could use our cars and clothes until they wear
out. And need not pay for the prestigious brands in the first
place. And they were made for maximum usefulness, not for
flashiness and planned obsolescence. Imagine we used cars
only when absolutely necessary, because we unselfishly
concluded that bicycles are better for the air we all breathe
and for our natural environment. Imagine we would enjoy the
benefit of healthy exercise by walking and bicycling instead
of succumbing to our preprogrammed tendency to evade
avoidable physical effort, and hence we were not wrought with
the health damage coming with our sedentary life styles.

Imagine what would happen if we renounced social
influence through violence (war and crime) and through
deception (marital infidelity, tax fraud). 95% of all topics
for novels and movies would disappear! Imagine we could find
sexual partners without lies and manipulations, without
having to spend decades acquiring useless status and beauty.
And imagine humanity would, for the good of our and other
species, voluntarily cease selfish behavior and even stop the
population explosion. I estimate that over 90 percent of our
working time and financial expenses would immediately be

But, I forgot! Even if our general predispositions would
allow the utopia, a few selfish individuals could take
advantage of the system. Then we would need to be careful to
prevent cheating. The cheaters would evade our precautions by
cheating in more sophisticated ways. It would pay if we only
trusted expensive impression management displays that are
hard to falsify. Sorry! We’re back to square one.


People tend to influence others for selfish reasons. They
tend to hide this fact from others and even from themselves.
Targets of influencing attempts act as if they knew the
influencing agent cannot be trusted. An extraordinary amount
of effort is devoted to impression management, the effort to
establish credibility.

The arms race between influencing agent and target,
between deceiver and defenses against deception, is very
expensive. Impression management is a full time job, and the
other full time job in life serves to acquire the finances
needed to buy the paraphernalia (like designer clothes, car,
condo and prestigious schools) to impress with. The very fact
that these items are expensive and difficult makes them hard
to fake and therefore more credible.

All animals are genetically programmed to maximize their
inclusive fitness (the number of their genes in the gene pool
of future generations). Humans have genetic and cultural
tendencies to maximize inclusive fitness. Social influence
and even altruism tend to be in the service of inclusive
fitness maximization. Everyone seeks his maximum benefit.
Alliances with nonkin are utilitarian.

Deception will be used whenever useful. This fact should
be hidden: one’s reputation is enhanced by being seemingly
altruistic. We would want to deceive others about our
selfishness and deception. Furthermore, we can deceive better
when we ourselves are convinced of what we say. We tend to
deceive ourselves, but often a part of us knows the repressed

After all this pessimistic outlook, is there any reason
for optimism? Maybe we can change if we become aware of our
unawareness, if we stop deceiving ourselves and others about
the fact that we are deceiving. Change would require that
true and ruthless honesty be socially acceptable, and mere
attempts at deceiving be stigmatized. If true honesty and
awareness pay, if they increase inclusive fitness, our
fitness maximizing instincts will embrace them.


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Author: Human-Stupidy (Admin)

Honest Research, Truth, Sincerity is our maxim. We hate politally correct falsification, falsification, repression of the truth, academic dishonesty and censorship.

3 thoughts on “Social evolution and social influence: selfishness, deception, self-deception”

  1. I like to think of my poor social skills and Assburgers syndrome as virtues too. I am also not very good at deceving myself.

  2. If your work and that of Hrdy were combined into a further work we could see that the fundamental roots of misery and human atrocities lie in the self deception capabilities of people.

    I am a scientist and coming from Biology and Engineering mathematics the issue of Self-Delusion fascinates me. My difficulty may arise from having a low index of self-deception. It tends to make socialization difficult at times.

    I would like to pursue the topic and perhaps contribute to further efforts to thwart the imminent demise of modern society as a consequence of rampant delusions.

    The modern iternet appears to have facilitated Delusionary memes spreading globally.

    As a scientist I am dismayed that all our idealism has been so inappropriately exploited.

    When I first introduced HTML to my students in the early 90’s I was shocked to discover its first application was the downloaading of Pornography. The Computer administrator and I had our hands full for some time.

  3. Pingback: Anonymous

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