What We Can Learn from Animals About Truth and Lies

What We Can Learn from Animals About Truth and Lies

Animals have long fascinated us with their intricate social behaviors, and it turns out that they can teach us valuable lessons about truth and lies. From deceptive tactics employed by nonhuman primates to the importance of honesty in human societies, there is much to learn.

In this article, we will explore the intriguing world of animal behavior and understand why truth and cooperation are crucial for our own species.

Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal’s observations of chimpanzees shed light on the stunningly human-like behavior of these animals.

He described how an established leader would lose face during confrontations, resorting to noisy tantrums and seeking comfort from the group.

This behavior highlights the savviness and ability to deceive that was once thought unimaginable for nonhuman primates.

The concept of social intelligence, also known as Machiavellian intelligence, allows primates to advance their personal interests through deception while avoiding being deceived. This behavior is not unique to animals; even politicians in human societies have been known to employ such tricks to gain and maintain power.

However, this raises the question: if lies and deceptions can offer advantages in nature, why do we stick to the truth?

To understand the value of truth, we can look at the Tibetan macaque, a species studied extensively in East China. These macaques use both cooperation and deception to gain advantages within their hierarchical societies.

However, as deceptive maneuvers are rewarded, their society becomes stuck in a state of constant conflict and mistrust. In contrast, human societies excel by curbing cheating and promoting honesty.

Unlike other primates, humans have developed a remarkable ability to cooperate on a large scale. Protected by laws and encouraged by prosocial norms, we are incentivized to stick to the truth, which fosters trust and cooperation. This has led to the progress and advancements we see in science, technology, and civilization as a whole.

While disinformation and falsehoods may exist, humans still hold truth and trust dear because they are the foundations of cooperation. Without truth, monumental achievements like St. Peter’s Basilica or functioning democracies would be impossible.

Honesty and trust enable us to tackle global challenges such as poverty, peace, and climate change through collective efforts.

Animals teach us that while deception may offer short-term gains, the long-term benefits of honesty and cooperation are immeasurable.

As humans, we have harnessed the power of truth to build thriving societies and achieve remarkable feats. By valuing truth, trust, and cooperation, we can continue to address the world’s most pressing concerns and work towards a better future.

This article by Josie Fu was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 26 June 2023. 

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