Human Nature

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 98–113 | Cite as

Do people differentially remember cheaters?

  • Pat Barclay
  • Martin L. Lalumière


The evolution of reciprocal altruism probably involved the evolution of mechanisms to detect cheating and remember cheaters. In a well-known study, Mealey, Daood, and Krage (1996) observed that participants had enhanced memory for faces that had previously been associated with descriptions of acts of cheating. There were, however, problems with the descriptions that were used in that study. We sought to replicate and extend the findings of Mealey and colleagues by using more controlled descriptions and by examining the possibility of enhanced altruist recognition. We also examined whether individual differences in cheating tendencies were related to cheater and altruist recognition. In the first experiment, 164 undergraduates saw 40 faces that were paired with character descriptions representing the categories of cheater, trustworthy, altruist, or neutral, for individuals who had either low or high social status. One week later participants reported which faces they recognized from the previous week (among 80 faces). Overall, the results failed to replicate the findings of Mealey and her colleagues, as there was no enhanced memory for cheaters. In addition, there was no enhanced memory for altruists, and no effect of participants’ cheating tendencies. A second experiment using a slightly different methodology produced similar results, with some evidence for enhanced memory for altruists.

Key words

Altruism Cheater recognition Cheating detection Memory 


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Copyright information

© Transaction Publishers 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.McMaster UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and University of LethbridgeUSA

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