Analyzing the payoffs of lying in various situations to determine if lying is ever truly beneficial.

Open Access
Cadenas, Elena
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Dr. Chris Byrne, Thesis Supervisor
  • Dr. Victoria V Sadovskaya, Honors Advisor
  • deception
  • lying
  • truthfulness
  • signal
  • Prisoner's Dilemma
  • game theory
  • beneficial
  • psychological
  • neurological
  • immune function payoff
  • signaling
  • factors
  • payoffdeception
  • payoff
  • immune function
Robert Trivers, who has pioneered research in deception, has made the statement that lying is never truly beneficial. This paper offers a model to test this claim. The model incorporates signaling into the Prisoner’s Dilemma game from classical game theory, thereby allowing players to lie or be truthful about their intended moves, as in the popular T.V. game show, The Golden Ball. Taking into account the psychological and neurological activity of the players while their interaction is occurring, various parameters (confirmation bias, conflict of interest, sensitivity, tells, fear and gullibility) are accounted for to feed into the final credibility assessment of whether the opponent is lying or not. As any game theory model, numerical values are assigned to represent the payoffs the players receive from the various combination of moves that can occur. However, this model utilizes the basic game payoff as well as a collateral biological payoff to account for the stress that an individual’s course of action in the game can impose on their body. Analysis considers two cases: both game and biological payoffs in the same units, such as might apply in an evolutionary fitness context, and, alternatively, the case when the payoffs are not in the same units, as might apply in an economic context where a trade-off can arise between financial gain and health. For the former context, an overall expected payoff is computed for a variety of scenarios, and for the latter, the Pareto boundary was examined to quantify the trade-off between the payoffs. From the expected payoff calculations, it was determined that lying is never truly beneficial. From the Pareto analysis, conditions were identified that force a trade-off between game payoff and biological payoff. While promising, this conclusion cannot be confirmed until the model is validated. Also, extensions to a repeated game context and other topics for future research are considered.