The primates with the biggest brains, compared to their body size, are the best at deceiving others. Since humans have the biggest brains of all, we’re especially good liars.
Hazel Muir writes in New Scientist that primates have the largest brains of all animal species, compared to their body size. This comes from evolving complex social skills?and lying is one of the most important. Psychologist Richard Byrne has seen many instances of deception among primates. A female gorilla will mate secretly with a male who isn’t her regular partner. A monkey will pretend not to like a certain food so that others won’t want to steal it. A baboon will stare into the distance when nothing is actually there, in order to distract his mother, who was about to punish him. Byrne says, “We were rather shocked that baboons could do anything quite as subtle as that.”
Byrne found that the bigger the brain, the bigger the lies. Bush babies and lemurs, which have smaller brains than other primates, are less sneaky than larger-brained primates. The most deceptive primates are gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans?and us.
But big brains aren’t only about lying. Byrne says, “I’m sure if we could have measured cooperative skill, we’d have found a similar result. Cooperation and outwitting are not opposed?they’re both about being socially subtle.”
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