Are humans the only species in which individuals lie to themselves?

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by nirakar, Nov 2, 2010.

  1. nirakar ( i ^ i ) Registered Senior Member

    Are humans the only species in which individuals lie to themselves?

    It turns out that human tool making is not unique and our speech is not as unique as once alleged. Our morality does not look that special and our criminality and wars also have parallels in the animal world.

    The experiments that tried to say humans are the only animals with a sense of self look seriously flawed in their methods and interpretations from my point of view.

    It was once suggested that humans were the only animals that lie but that has been shown to be wrong.

    Animals, particularly their young at play show some signs of imagination and fantasy by deliberately reacting to things that don't exist as if they existed for fun.

    You can use pride and shame to train a dog though pride and shame do not seem as separated from reward and punishment in dogs as they are in people.

    Human self deception and human group self deception might be uniquely human. We have religions and fictitious histories. We convince ourselves that we are more important or in some other way different from how we are. A husband and wife may both distort their memory and understanding of an argument or event for psychological reasons. I have seen no signs that other animals actually deceive themselves though I don't know how we could look for signs of animals deceiving themselves.
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  3. kurros Registered Senior Member

    Perhaps they are not all that separated from reward and punishment in people either. We just have more complex notions of what constitutes a reward or a punishment.

    Well deception is quite a complex phenomenon, requiring the ability to be able to think ahead quite a bit to determine if it is beneficial or not. Individual self-deception is even more complex I think, although not in the context of group self deception perhaps. It is easy to see how a person may be willing to "deceive" themselves in various ways to be accepted by a group and to gain the benefits associated with being part of that group. Since human groups can be formed for all kinds of crazy reasons it widens the spectrum of components of reality which must be readjusted in the mind of the individual to gain acceptance.
    Animals do not form groups based on abstract concepts, so I don't really see that they would ever have to deceive themselves about anything to gain acceptance into a group, they just have to accept a certain amount of submission to the will of the group or leader. What kinds of things do they think about that they could deceive themselves about? I can't imagine anything which doesn't involve some external agent doing the deceiving or causing some kind of psychological harm to cause the animal to have incorrect expectations about future situations. But maybe I'm just not imaginative enough

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    Or maybe this isn't that different to people. Is self-deception really totally an internal matter, or is it a result of past external influences which screw up our future perceptions?

    As for the husband and wife memory changing example, without being able to communicate with an animal I can't see that you could ever distinguish their acceptance or forgetting of a past event from them actually changing their memory of it.

    Perhaps we need to further break down the concept of self-deception into simpler ingredients before we can imagine what kind of analogous behaviour may be present in animals.
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  5. Spud Emperor solanaceous common tater Registered Senior Member

    I can't believe you needed to ask this question.

    Cat's lie through their teeth. They pretend they can't hear you, pretend they are great hunters for tormenting somebusted arsed mouse, practise deception and self denial when they make a faux pas (faux paw)by licking themselves to divert attention from their clumsiness.

    I think dogs do it a bit too but they're not smart enough to realise they're doing it.

    I'm sure there are other species who do it but I can't give examples. Cetaceans and tentacled encephalapod molluscs would have the brain capacity but I don't know if they are as philisophically flawed as cats and humans.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I think you read the question too quickly. It was whether other animals lie to themselves, not to others.

    I don't think we'll be able to answer it until we establish better communication with the ones who arguably have language. That means the gorillas and chimpanzees will come first since we've already taught them to talk in ASL.
  8. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    I am not well read enough to comment on the topic, but you might look into the work of Robert Trivers, an evolutionary biologist who has looked at self deception as an evolved trait

    The Elements of a Scientific Theory of Self-Deception

    He has looked at self deception as something that has developed in order to better enable deception of others and postulated links to aggression [and there on to testosterone etc]

    Here is a discussion on deceit between Chomsky and Trivers

    There is also some work by Groos on conceptualised play as a model for self deception. Children do not have any concept of deceit yet they "pretend" during play - which could be considered a model for self deception. There is a school of thought which considers self deception as a genetic trait or at least an instinct

    As far as I know, there is not yet any evidence of such self deception in animals.

    edit: Groos has also written on play and self illusion in animals but again, I am not well read enough to comment on it
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2010
  9. Spud Emperor solanaceous common tater Registered Senior Member

    Come on Fraggle.
    I expected that response but not from you.
    Read a bit closer. Denial and pretending,i.e. lying to cat's self.
  10. SilentLi89 Registered Senior Member

    How could one even test this without speaking to them?

    My dog, when he is really hungry, will sometimes check his bowl mulitple times even though he already saw only a minute ago that there was nothing in there. Assuming he just doesn't have a terrible memory (which he probably doesn't), I guess you could say he is lying to himself and giving himself false hope that food might have magically appeared in his bowl. Sometimes he eats my puppy's food when she isn't around and she'll come looking for it several times, but I think she actually forgets that it's gone. There is a difference in their behavior.
    I know I often check the clock when I'm bored hoping to look up and see that hours have passed even though I know I just looked at it not to long ago.
    That's the only example of self deception that I can think of that can be observed in animals without knowing their thoughts and feelings.
  11. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator


    You’re anthropomorphizing cat behaviour. To suggest that cats deceive themselves in a similar manner to humans is not as clear cut as you are suggesting.
  12. Emil Valued Senior Member

    Telling a lie requires a certain degree of abstraction, imagination.
    I do not believe that animals are capable of it.
    A lie to yourself can be a wrong perception of reality.
    And the animals may mistakenly perceive the reality.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 4, 2010
  13. Mr MacGillivray Banned Banned

    People don't even admit that they lie to themselves.
  14. John99 Banned Banned

    I have never known a human who lied to him\her self. In 34 years on this earth i cannot recall one lie i told myself. I've been wrong but few people can admit to being wrong does not menat they are lying to themselves as much as they accept their own weaknesses and let them slide hoping no one notices them. If no one notices thir mistakes they get filed to the back and basically forgotten. I think the problem is too many concern themselves with what other people are doing.

    In reality it is impossible for a normal human adult to lie to themselves. Even children, i cant see how it is possible. An animal like a dog or cat is somehting i would never know but i seriously doubt they would lie to themselves or even if it is possible to do so.

    We cannot even call psychosis lying. This is very basic. Maybe you are thinking of the phrase "lying to yourself" this is an old expression but these things are not meant to be taken literally.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2010
  15. Mr MacGillivray Banned Banned

    There is a lie.
  16. John99 Banned Banned

    No, it isnt a lie.
  17. Shadow1 Valued Senior Member

    high intelligence+awaring=mind=lieing
  18. historicfuture Registered Member

    for the sake of all that is sane,

    it does NOT matter people, it's semantics.
  19. John99 Banned Banned

    Well then tell us how a person lies to themselves.
  20. John99 Banned Banned

    Its not semantics. A lie is to knowingly deceive. Explain how this is possible to knowingly deceive yourself.
  21. historicfuture Registered Member

    Many professional liars lie to themselves when interrogated so that they seem more naturally believable. They make themselves believe in a lie by justifying it with fanatical means. Like I killed that person because god controlled me so I didn't actually kill that person, god did. Then when asked if they killed that person they say no, and they believe it. Is that a lie or did it change in the thought-pattern? Semantics.
  22. John99 Banned Banned

    Its not lying to yourself if you believe it. And if the do know they are lying then they are not lying to themselves.
  23. historicfuture Registered Member

    They are deceiving themselves into belief.

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