Deception Undermines the Stability of Cooperation in Games of Indirect Reciprocity
Indirect reciprocity is often claimed as one of the key mechanisms of human cooperation. It works only if there is a reputational score keeping and each individual can inform with high probability which other individuals were good or bad in the previous round. Gossip is often proposed as a mechanism that can maintain such coherence of reputations in the face of errors of transmission. Random errors, however, are not the only source of uncertainty in such situations. The possibility of deceptive communication, where the signallers aim to misinform the receiver cannot be excluded. While there is plenty of evidence for deceptive communication in humans the possibility of deception is not yet incorporated into models of indirect reciprocity. Here we show that when deceptive strategies are allowed in the population it will cause the collapse of the coherence of reputations and thus in turn it results the collapse of cooperation. This collapse is independent of the norms and the cost and benefit values. It is due to the fact that there is no selection for honest communication in the framework of indirect reciprocity. It follows that indirect reciprocity can be only proposed plausibly as a mechanism of human cooperation if additional mechanisms are specified in the model that maintains honesty.