Self-deception as self-signalling: a model and experimental evidence.

Research paper by Danica D Mijović-Prelec, Drazen D Prelec

Indexed on: 23 Dec '09Published on: 23 Dec '09Published in: Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences


Self-deception has long been the subject of speculation and controversy in psychology, evolutionary biology and philosophy. According to an influential 'deflationary' view, the concept is an over-interpretation of what is in reality an instance of motivationally biased judgement. The opposite view takes the interpersonal deception analogy seriously, and holds that some part of the self actively manipulates information so as to mislead the other part. Building on an earlier self-signalling model of Bodner and Prelec, we present a game-theoretic model of self-deception. We propose that two distinct mechanisms collaborate to produce overt expressions of belief: a mechanism responsible for action selection (including verbal statements) and an interpretive mechanism that draws inferences from actions and generates emotional responses consistent with the inferences. The model distinguishes between two modes of self-deception, depending on whether the self-deceived individual regards his own statements as fully credible. The paper concludes with a new experimental study showing that self-deceptive judgements can be reliably and repeatedly elicited with financial incentives in a categorization task, and that the degree of self-deception varies with incentives. The study also finds evidence of the two forms of self-deception. The psychological benefits of self-deception, as measured by confidence, peak at moderate levels.