The intricate mechanism of lying to oneself has long intrigued researchers in the domain of biological psychology. An array of questions regarding purpose, psychological architecture, and mental manifestations of lying emerged as a result of this scientific pursuit. The interest in the topic is highlighted by the existence of popular series and bestselling books dedicated to the issue. The popularity of the phenomenon could be related to its ubiquity. Deceit is inherent to the animal kingdom – it emerged as an evolutionary mechanism and plays a crucial for survival role in animal communication (Hippel and Trivers 2). Self-deception in human societies may share the origins and evolutionary functions with the general notion of lying, and its significance is equally considerable for the success of the species.
Self-deception, as a recurring phenomenon in human life, has several advantages that alleviate the struggle of survival. Self-deceptive practices may help overcome the problem of a lie being easily discovered by the deceived and serve as a response to evolved in parallel lie detection mechanisms (Hippel and Trivers 2). It is argued that the social nature of human beings and the collaborative way of living render the species more prepared to succumb to self-deception if that leads to increased social status in a group (Smith et al. 21). A study conducted by Smith et al. established that “people who were financially motivated to persuade another person in a particular direction demonstrated a self-deceptive information processing bias consistent with their persuasive goals” (p. 3). Therefore, self-deception may be viewed as an unintentional interpersonal behavior, which aims to convince others, first by convincing oneself.
Evolutionary advantageousness of self-deception is associated closely with natural selection. The phenomenon under consideration could help an individual adjust better to their social environment, which results in an additional positive influence on their reproductive success. The potential evolutionary benefits of a sincere self-deception may include access to material means gained trough lying and social comfort, which is another vital resource (Mijovic-Prelec and Drazen 235). On the contrary, stress or negative emotions provoked by a conscious act of deception could be seen as more dangerous to one’s well-being. From this perspective, self-deception is supposed to be favored in the course of evolution.
From the outlined information, the unintentional nature of self-deception becomes evident. Nevertheless, the intentionality of lying to oneself is argued for by researchers who base it on the distinction between wishful thinking and self-deception. According to Mele, “they may claim that although wishful thinking does not require an intention to deceive oneself, self-deception differs from it precisely in being intentional” (p. 100). The argument could be countered by evoking the level of consciousness involved in two processes and psychological processes behind them. The difference between wishful thinking and self‑deception may not be in the processes’ intentionality, but in the latter actually needing a person to believe in a lie for the phenomenon to occur.
A tendency to overestimate one-self is one of the examples of self-deception. The behavior is seen as rather standard and may signal the extent of the phenomenon’s habitualness. Despite being commonly practiced, lying to oneself is deemed morally inadvisable, even if less so than lying to others. Since morality as seen in human societies and animal kingdom may not concur completely, the outlined research could serve as proof for convenience and profitability of self-deception from an evolutionary standpoint.
Hippel, William von, and Robert Trivers.”The Evolution and Psychology of Self-Deception.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 34, 2011, pp. 1–56.
Mele, Alfred R. “Real Self-deception.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 20, 1997, pp. 91–136.
Mijovic-Prelec, Danica, and Drazen Prelec. “Self-deception as Self-signalling: A Model and Experimental Evidence.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, vol. 365, 2010, pp. 227–240.
Smith, Megan K, et al. “Self-deception Facilitates Interpersonal Persuasion.” Journal of Economic Psychology, vol. 63, 2017, pp. 1–26.