Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 61, Issue 6, pp 1151–1186

On the evolution of pure winner and loser effects: A game-theoretic model

  • Michael Mesterton-Gibbons

DOI: 10.1006/bulm.1999.0137

Cite this article as:
Mesterton-Gibbons, M. Bull. Math. Biol. (1999) 61: 1151. doi:10.1006/bulm.1999.0137


The persistence of linear dominance hierarchies is often attributed to higher probabilities of a win after a win or a loss after a loss in agonistic interactions, yet there has been no theory on the evolution of such prior-experience effects. Here an analytic model, based on the idea that contests are determined by subjective perceptions of resource-holding potential (RHP) which animals may revise in the light of experience, demonstrates that winner and loser effects can evolve through round-robin competition among triads of animals drawn randomly from their population, and that the probability of a hierarchy increases with the strength of the combined effect. The effects are pure, in the sense that a contestant observes neither its own RHP nor its opponent’s RHP or RHP perception or win—loss record; and so the strength of an effect is unmodified by the RHPs of particular individuals, but depends on the distribution of RHP among the population at large. The greater the difference between an individual’s and its opponent’s RHP perception, the more likely it is to win a contest; however, if it overestimates its RHP, then the cost of fighting increases with the overestimate. A winner or loser effect exists only if the fitness gain of the beta individual in a hierarchy, relative to that of the alpha, is less than 0.5. Then a loser effect can exist alone, or it can coexist with a winner effect; however, there cannot exist a winner effect without a loser effect.

Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Mesterton-Gibbons
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MathematicsFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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