Zoë Chance and Michael I. Norton
Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 3 August 2015
Scholars from many disciplines have investigated self-deception, but both defining self-deception and establishing its possible benefits have been a matter of heated debate – a debate impoverished by a relative lack of empirical research. Drawing on recent research, we first classify three distinct definitions of self-deception, ranging from a view that self-deception is synonymous with positive illusions to a more stringent view that self-deception requires the presence of simultaneous conflicting beliefs. We then review recent research on the possible benefits of self-deception, identifying three adaptive functions: deceiving others, social status, and psychological benefits. We suggest potential directions for future research.
The nature and definition of self-deception remains open to debate. Philosophers have questioned whether – and how – self-deception is possible; evolutionary theorists have conjectured that self-deception may – or must – be adaptive. Until recently, there was little evidence for either the existence or processes of self-deception; indeed, Robert Trivers wrote that research on self-deception is still in its infancy. In recent years, however, empirical research on self-deception has been gaining traction in social psychology and economics, providing much-needed evidence and shedding light on the psychology of self-deception. We first classify competing definitions of self-deception, then review recent research supporting three distinct advantages of self-deception: improved success in deceiving others, social status, and psychological benefits.
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Note to Psychologists: Psychologists engage in self-deception in psychotherapy. Psychologists typically judge psychotherapy sessions as having been more beneficial than patients. Self-deception may lead to clinical missteps and errors in judgment, both clinical and ethical.