The Theory of Honest Signalling

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Introduction: Part 1

Introduction: Part 2

The Basic Problem

The Basic Solution

Honest signalling in biology

Zahavi's handicap principle

Grafen's model

Attracting mates

Begging for food

Deterring predation

Contesting resources

Autumn color

Honest signalling in economics

Conspicuous consumption


The mathematics of honest signalling

Signalling as a game


Other resources

Carl T. Bergstrom

Using Mathematica

Contact Information

Department of Zoology
University of Washington
Box 351800
Seattle, WA 98195-1800

An Introduction to the Theory of Honest Signalling

Grazing on the savannah, a gazelle spots a feline form moving through the tall grass fifty meters away. It lifts its head, listening, sniffing the breeze, and then suddenly, released like a jack-in-the-box, it springs straight up into the air, six feet high. It lands, only to repeatedly leap in place again and again. Other members of the herd notice, and quickly begin to imitate its display.

A magpie alights at the edge of her nest, a juicy caterpiller dangling from her beak. Even before her feet touch the haphazard assembly of twigs, her four nestlings launch into a cacophany of squawks, warbles, clucks, and clackings.

As you are waiting for friend in the hotel lobby, a well-dressed man walks up and asks you for the time. You notice his thousand-dollar suit and, without thinking, address him as "Sir."

Do these diverse examples of behavior have anything in common?

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Last modified September 4, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Carl T. Bergstrom