At the heart of the social intelligence hypothesis is the central role of ‘social living’. But living is messy and psychologists generally seek to avoid this mess in the interests of getting clean data and cleaner logical explanations. The study of deception as intelligent action is a good example of the dangers of such avoidance. We still do not have a full picture of the development of deceptive actions in human infants and toddlers or an explanation of why it emerges. This paper applies Byrne & Whiten's functional taxonomy of tactical deception to the social behaviour of human infants and toddlers using data from three previous studies. The data include a variety of acts, such as teasing, pretending, distracting and concealing, which are not typically considered in relation to human deception. This functional analysis shows the onset of non-verbal deceptive acts to be surprisingly early. Infants and toddlers seem to be able to communicate false information (about themselves, about shared meanings and about events) as early as true information. It is argued that the development of deception must be a fundamentally social and communicative process and that if we are to understand why deception emerges at all, the scientist needs to get ‘back to the rough ground’ as Wittgenstein called it and explore the messy social lives in which it develops.
↵1 Whereas adults, in judging a lie, were reported to take into account not only the factuality of the utterance, but also the speaker's belief in its factuality and the speaker's intention to deceive (Coleman & Kay 1981), three year olds don't appear to; they are either unsystematic in their responses or barely respond to questions in an experimental scenario about whether someone was telling a lie, the truth or something else (Strichartz & Burton 1990). However, there is a recent and replicated finding in (Lillard 2002; Mitchell & Neal 2005) that not until about 6 years of age do children answer similar questions about–and therefore understand–pretending in other people. There is no doubt amongst psychologists, however, that children do pretend from around 18 months of age. The understanding of the complex acts (of pretending, or in our case, of deceiving) in another person may be evident later than its intelligent use by the self.
↵2 ‘Cover stories are as likely to be ridiculous as plausible. The teddy bear may be accused of the act as often as the sibling’ (Morton 1988, p. 36); also the oft cited ‘I didn't break the lamp and I won't do it again’ from Vasek (1986)
↵3 ‘It is exactly the rigidity withwhich these early ‘lies’ are used that reveals them as no more than previously successful strategies for avoiding the undesirable, rather than genuine cases of deception designed to manipulate the other person's belief’ (Perner 1991, p. 193).
↵4 ‘Four year olds’ lies typically take the form of simple denial (‘No’) or misleading confirmation (‘Yes’) rather than the more sophisticated elaborations of older children and adults’ lies’ (Bussey 1992, p. 99).
↵5 ‘acts from the normal repertoire of the agent, deployed such that another individual is likely to misinterpret what the acts signify, to the advantage of the agent’ (Whiten & Byrne 1988)
↵6 Teasing: Two subcategories of Creating an Image (Affiliation and Threat) involve instances of playful teasing by human infants. Not all teasing involves deception: jumping on someone, biting them, pulling hair, trying to get any reaction, are all non-serious and in some sense, ‘play’ or ‘quasi-aggressive’ behaviour (Adang 1984), but involve deception only if there is some attempt to disguise the act or the acts leading up to it. The openly smiling ‘silent scream’ produced by a 12 month-old when told not to scream ( JB, in Reddy 1998), was a sophisticated provocation but not deceptive. In contrast to such quasiaggression or to playfighting where ‘real’ fighting may not yet be in the animal's repertoire, playful teasing may often have embedded in its sequence, some false information (see Chevalier-Skolnikoff 1986). Evidence of the false use of an action (as in deliberate misnaming, misdemeanours and non-compliance) can be obtained by establishing the presence of their ‘proper’ usage at the same point in time: evidence that they are not coincidental or accidental can be obtained through the shift or change in actions and demeanour and evidence that they are not a ‘change of mind’ can be obtained from facial expressions as well as from information allowing the discounting of the infant's desire for the forbidden object or activity. Teasing may not meet the ‘self advantage’ criterion ofW&B other than in the sense of getting a reaction that you want through a feigned act. However,wewould not use that criterion in adults or older children (or even in animals–e.g. see example 172 of teasing by C-S in Byrne & Whiten 1990 corpus).
↵7 Example 20 in Cebus apella by Collinge (1990, in the Byrne & Whiten 1990 corpus) ( jumping on to shoulder and playing with hair for the first time ever ‘in order to’ pull out the stop watch newly hidden inside the jumper: this example ismuchmore sophisticated than the distraction by ‘holding the eyes’, of the one year old human infants, involving a more complex set of deceptive behaviours and prior planning (see also Example 170 in gorillas, C-S) and probably a more complex understanding of the mechanics of vision (i.e., cannot see behind - develops around 18 months in humans, Butterworth & Jarrett 1991).
↵8 Mitchell (2002) suggests that non-verbal deception in most of the higher apes and human children can be explained as ‘script-violation’ rather than in terms of complex meta-representational abilities. Script theory allows complex learning of social contingencies and routines and effects, and complex variations and violations on themes, without having to invoke meta-representation and meta-communication. However, while, representation may be a bit of a red herring for understanding deception, script theory is not necessarily the answer. It still does not explain the why, the motive.
- © 2007 The Royal Society