Robert Trivers

The Power of Self-Deception

Self-deception is supposed to be a bad thing, right? There's no way being less informed about the way the world actually is could be beneficial... Surely.

Or not. According to a recent article in the Scientific American Blog:

People mislead themselves all day long. We tell ourselves we’re smarter and better looking than our friends, that our political party can do no wrong, that we’re too busy to help a colleague. In 1976, in the foreword to Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, the biologist Robert Trivers floated a novel explanation for such self-serving biases: We dupe ourselves in order to deceive others, creating social advantage. Now after four decades Trivers and his colleagues have published the first research supporting his idea.

I'm both fascinated and disturbed by the idea that misleading yourself can be beneficial in small doses. Not being entirely aware of your own shortcomings can lead to the confidence necessary to take a risk you wouldn't otherwise take, or nail a job interview when you may not actually be the most qualified candidate.

I've been aware of the phenomenon for years and I've read both The Selfish Gene and Trivers' full work on the subject, The Folly of Fools. Both are extremely important texts in modern science that help you to see human behaviour from a new perspective. 

I know from performing experience that simple acting is incredibly powerful. When I perform, I consciously adjust how hard it looks like I'm working, so members of the audience can't tell how difficult any particular trick is. When I need to mentally work my ass off behind the scenes, I've figured out how to project confidence so those internal machinations remain hidden. 

Appearances can be deceiving, even to ourselves.