Do people differentially remember cheaters?

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Pat Barclay.

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The research was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded to Martin Lalumière and Margo Wilson.

Pat Barclay received his Ph.D. from McMaster University, where he conducted research on altruism, costly signaling, and cooperative games. He is now a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University.

Martin Lalumière (Ph.D.) was a Research Psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Criminology at the University of Toronto during the completion of this work. He is now Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology (Behaviour and Evolution Research Group) at the University of Lethbridge, and his research interests include the causes of sexual aggression, the development of sexual preferences, and the nature of psychopathy.

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Barclay, P., Lalumière, M.L. Do people differentially remember cheaters?. Hum Nat 17, 98–113 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-006-1022-y

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Key words

  • Altruism
  • Cheater recognition
  • Cheating detection
  • Memory