Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Representations and decision rules in the theory of self-deception

Steven Pinkera1

Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.


Self-deception is a powerful but overapplied theory. It is adaptive only when a deception-detecting audience is in the loop, not when an inaccurate representation is invoked as an internal motivator. First, an inaccurate representation cannot be equated with self-deception, which entails two representations, one inaccurate and the other accurate. Second, any motivational advantages are best achieved with an adjustment to the decision rule on when to act, not with a systematic error in an internal representation.