Is honesty really the best policy? Isn't it more beneficial to cheat, if you can get away with it?

A study from the insect world provides a new perspective on honest communication by showing that paper wasps that send dishonest signals are aggressively punished, and the drubbing can have long-term impacts.

"Why don't animals cheat by signaling that they are strong when they are actually weak? In paper wasps, we found that inaccurate signaling produces a cascade of costly social and physiological effects," said University of Michigan evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Tibbetts.

Tibbetts is first author of a paper on the topic scheduled for online publication July 4 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors propose that interactions between behavioral and physiological costs of dishonesty could play an important role in maintaining honest communication over evolutionary time.

Co-authors on the PNAS paper are U-M's Katherine Crocker and Zachary Huang of Michigan State University.

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