Saturday, 16 January 1999

From "Shrewdly Irrational"

By Robert H. Frank.

[...] clear physical and behavioral clues to emotional arousal do exist, and prospective liars know this. The only way a liar can be sure that his lie will not arouse suspicion is for him to be in complete control of the emotions he actually feels while lying (or else to feel no emotion at all).

But there are good reasons for not wanting that kind of control. Adam Smith's observations about the division and specialization of labor mean that most people will find it essential to form economic alliances with others. Such alliances inevitably involve trust. People who join them must expose themselves to the possibility of being cheated by their partners. Who would want to form an alliance of this sort with a person who had perfect control over his emotions? Given the high payoff to being a trusted member of a productive economic group, it is not obvious that even completely selfish persons would choose to enter the world with a utility function that lacked the usual emotional inhibitions against lying and cheating [...]

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