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Tactical deception in primates

  • A. Whiten (a1) and R. W. Byrne (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 February 2010

Tactical deception occurs when an individual is able to use an “honest” act from his normal repertoire in a different context to mislead familiar individuals. Although primates have a reputation for social skill, most primate groups are so intimate that any deception is likely to be subtle and infrequent. Published records are sparse and often anecdotal. We have solicited new records from many primatologists and searched for repeating patterns. This has revealed several different forms of deceptive tactic, which we classify in terms of the function they perform. For each class, we sketch the features of another individual's state of mind that an individual acting with deceptive intent must be able to represent, thus acting as a “natural psychologist.” Our analysis will sharpen attention to apparent taxonomic differences. Before these findings can be generalized, however, behavioral scientists must agree on some fundamental methodological and theoretical questions in the study of the evolution of social cognition.

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