Biological Theory

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 164–179 | Cite as

Attribution of Information in Animal Interaction

  • Stephen Francis MannEmail author
Original Article


This article establishes grounds on which attributions of information and encoding in animal signals are warranted. As common interest increases between evolutionary agents, the theoretical approach best suited to describing their interaction shifts from evolutionary game theory to communication theory, which warrants informational language. The take-home positive message is that in cooperative settings, signals can appropriately be described as transmitting encoded information, regardless of the cognitive powers of signalers. The canonical example is the honeybee waggle dance, which is discussed extensively in the second and third sections. The take-home negative message is that signals are not always a consequence of coadaptation. The communication theory approach is just one end of a continuum explored more thoroughly by evolutionary game theory. The fourth and fifth sections explore this wider framework, as well as overturning some widely held misconceptions about information theory.


Animal communication Behavioral ecology Communication theory Evolutionary game theory Teleosemantics 



Thanks are due to Jessica Pfeifer, Justin Bruner, Ron Planer, and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier drafts, and to Siva Kalyan for assistance with diagrams. Thanks also to audiences at the 2017 Sydney-ANU philosophy of biology workshop and the University of Sydney Social Insects lab, especially Madeleine Beekman and Isobel Ronai. This research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship and Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship Grant FL130100141.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PhilosophyAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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