Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

A social cheat is typically assumed to be an individual that does not perform a cooperative behaviour, or performs less of it, but can still exploit the cooperative behaviour of others. However, empirical data suggests that cheating can be more subtle, involving evolutionary arms races over the ability to both exploit and resist exploitation. These complications have not been captured by evolutionary theory, which lags behind empirical studies in this area. We bridge this gap with a mixture of game-theoretical models and individual-based simulations, examining what conditions favour more elaborate patterns of cheating. We found that as well as adjusting their own behaviour, individuals can be selected to manipulate the behaviour of others, which we term 'manipulative cheating'. Further, we found that manipulative cheating can lead to dynamic oscillations (arms races), between selfishness, manipulation, and suppression of manipulation. Our results can help explain both variation in the level of cheating, and genetic variation in the extent to which individuals can be exploited by cheats.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





evolutionary biology, none