Animals That Lie

A NY Times article about the biology of deceit notes that among primates there's "a direct relationship between sneakiness and brain size." It offers this story:

chimpanzees or orangutans in captivity sometimes tried to lure human strangers over to their enclosure by holding out a piece of straw while putting on their friendliest face.
“People think, Oh, he likes me, and they approach,” Dr. de Waal said. “And before you know it, the ape has grabbed their ankle and is closing in for the bite. It’s a very dangerous situation.”

Apparently dolphins are also capable of deceit:

After dolphin trainers at the Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Mississippi had taught the dolphins to clean the pools of trash by rewarding the mammals with a fish for every haul they brought in, one female dolphin figured out how to hide trash under a rock at the bottom of the pool and bring it up to the trainers one small piece at a time.

My cat is definitely capable of deception. Sometimes she'll pretend to be sleeping, but when you walk by her, Whack!, she gets you with her paw.

Animals Science

Posted on Tue Dec 23, 2008


I had a pair of schnauzers, half sisters, and the older one used to deceive her younger sister all the time. For example, whenever we played fetch, when I threw the ball, Riki (elder sis) would run to an area well away from where the ball really went and Tara would follow her. Once they got to the "wrong" spot, Riki would start pretending to look for the ball, Tara would follow suit, then Riki would run to where the ball really went, leaving Tara behind. She did this on her own, no training involved.
Posted by Canadarm  on  Tue Dec 23, 2008  at  02:59 PM
Again, you've seemingly read my mind, Alex. I was just about to say that I've definitely seen cats engage in what a human would describe as "deception" during play.

Semi off-topic, we used to have a cat (now deceased) who would play hide and seek with my daughter and would even alternate hiding and seeking, which I would have thought was beyond a cat's abilities.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Tue Dec 23, 2008  at  06:39 PM
Our cat definitely plays Chasey - you run and hide, he finds you then runs away, you must follow, and so on. When he wants to initiate the game, he runs up and "tags" you by tapping you with his paw, fluffing up his tail and bolting.
He also uses his tummy as an ambush - he exposes it, making you think, oh what a cute fluffy kitty belly, you go to pat it, and wham! No more hand!
Posted by kat  on  Tue Dec 23, 2008  at  06:46 PM
Y'all are really making me want a kitty.
Posted by fuzzfoot  on  Wed Dec 24, 2008  at  08:58 AM
How many would you like, fuzzfoot? I'm over on the coast, a wee bit south of Tillamook, and we're up to our collective ass in semi-ferals and kittens abandoned by their moms which we're taken in and kept going.

Name your preferred gender and coloration and we can probably accommodate.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Thu Dec 25, 2008  at  05:26 PM
My dog plays "Guess what hand it's in." I hide it in my hand, then hold out both my hands to him in fists. I say "guess which hand it's in?" and he paws the one that he thinks is right. If he wins he gets the snack, if he doesn't, I switch hands and so on.
Posted by Sakano  on  Sat Dec 27, 2008  at  03:05 PM
I used to play poker with one of my cats. She was great at bluffing: she had an unbeatable poker face.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Dec 27, 2008  at  08:01 PM
Awwww, I want a kitty CMG. Too bad I'm way too far away.
Posted by Razela  on  Tue Dec 30, 2008  at  09:08 PM
Regarding the dolphins -- they were simply looking for a way of getting the fish, would you describe a more efficient method of doing something as deceit? Deceit requires the context of right outcome vs. wrong outcome, and I doubt the dolphins understood that cleaning trash was in any way right or positive.
Posted by Gutza  on  Mon Jan 12, 2009  at  05:32 AM
Gutza, I suggest that the dolphins have a perfectly feasible idea of 'right' and 'wrong' - That which does them good is 'right' and vice versa.

My take on this is that of the nuerologists studying the development of human intellect; The more complex your brain, the more likely it is to develoop faults such as distroting reality. Forcing the distorted way you view reality upon others is one way that mental aberration has influenced language and culture - In plain words, you have to be smart and crazy enough to see things as they are not in order to lie, and clever and skilled in communications to decieve others.
Posted by D F Stuckey  on  Sun Feb 01, 2009  at  07:16 PM
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