The Art of Deception: When Kindness is a Lure to Betrayal

Over at NPR, Barbara King has a post about the mostly amusing deceptions that chimpanzee mothers sometimes engage in. It’s a nice post that includes an amusing video, which I’ve pasted below; note the look on the face of the mom when she cashes in on the deception, which is centered around an exchange of favors, and take her child’s tools. “Thanks; I’ll have that.”

King’s post put me in mind of an example of chimpanzee deception I highlighted in an article a few years ago. In this one, far more cruel, an act of apparent generosity is used to disguise something quite different. It came from the work of Frans de Waal.

Deception runs deep. In his book, “Our Inner Ape,” Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, describes a simple but cruel deception perpetrated by a female chimp named Puist. One day, Puist chases but cannot catch a younger, faster female rival. Some minutes later, writes de Waal, “Puist makes a friendly gesture from a distance, stretching out an open hand. The young female hesitates at first, then approaches Puist with classic signs of mistrust, like frequent stopping, looking around at others and a nervous grin on her face. Puist persists, adding soft pants when the younger female comes closer. Soft pants have a particularly friendly meaning; they are often followed by a kiss, the chimpanzee’s chief conciliatory gesture. Then, suddenly, Puist lunges and grabs the younger female, biting her fiercely before she manages to free herself.”

Happy holidays, folks — and careful what offers you accept at those office parties.