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Honesty plays a crucial role in any situation where organisms exchange information or resources. Dishonesty can thus be expected to have damaging effects on social coherence if agents cannot trust the information or goods they receive. However, a distinction is often drawn between prosocial lies ('white' lies) and antisocial lying (i.e. deception for personal gain), with the former being considered much less destructive than the latter. We use an agent-based model to show that antisocial lying causes social networks to become increasingly fragmented. Antisocial dishonesty thus places strong constraints on the size and cohesion of social communities, providing a major hurdle that organisms have to overcome (e.g. by evolving counter-deception strategies) in order to evolve large, socially cohesive communities. In contrast, white lies can prove to be beneficial in smoothing the flow of interactions and facilitating a larger, more integrated network. Our results demonstrate that these group-level effects can arise as emergent properties of interactions at the dyadic level. The balance between prosocial and antisocial lies may set constraints on the structure of social networks, and hence the shape of society as a whole.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





agent-based modelling, deception, social networks, Animals, Deception, Humans, Models, Theoretical, Social Behavior, Social Support, Trust