Costly signalling theory and dishonest signalling

  • Shan Sun
  • Michal Johanis
  • Jan RychtářEmail author


We analyze the model of costly signalling theory and show that dishonest signalling is still a possible outcome even for costly indices that cannot be faked. We assume that signallers pay the cost for sending a signal and that the cost correlates negatively with signaller’s quality q and correlates positively with signal’s strength s. We show that for any given function f with continuous derivative, there is a cost function t(s, q) increasing in s and decreasing in q so that when the signaller of quality q optimizes the strength of the signal, it will send the signal of strength f(q). In particular, optimal signals can follow any given function f. Our results can explain the curvilinear relationship between the strength of signals and physical condition of three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus).


Honest signalling Dishonest signalling Game theory Index hypothesis Handicap 


Funding information

SS was financially supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31870357); MJ was supported by grant GAČR 16-07378S


  1. Archetti M, Scheuring I, Hoffman M, Frederickson ME, Pierce NE, Yu DW (2011) Economic game theory for mutualism and cooperation. Ecol Lett 14(12):1300–1312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bergstrom CT, Számadó S, Lachmann M (2002) Separating equilibria in continuous signalling games. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 357(1427):1595–1606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Biernaskie JM, Grafen A, Perry JC (2014) The evolution of index signals to avoid the cost of dishonesty. Proc R Soc B 281(1790):20140876CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Biernaskie JM, Perry JC, Grafen A (2018) A general model of biological signals, from cues to handicaps. Evolution Lett 2(3):201–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Blount JD, Speed MP, Ruxton GD, Stephens PA (2009) Warning displays may function as honest signals of toxicity. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 276(1658):871–877CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blount JD, Rowland HM, Drijfhout FP, Endler JA, Inger R, Sloggett JJ, Hurst GD, Hodgson DJ, Speed MP (2012) How the ladybird got its spots: effects of resource limitation on the honesty of aposematic signals. Funct Ecol 26(2):334–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Broom M, Rychtář J (2013) Game-theoretical models in biology. CRC Press, Boca RatonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Candolin U (1999) The relationship between signal quality and physical condition: is sexual signalling honest in the three-spined stickleback? Anim Behav 58(6):1261–1267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davies NB, Krebs JR, West SA (2012) An introduction to behavioural ecology. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Emlen DJ, Warren IA, Johns A, Dworkin I, Lavine LC (2012) A mechanism of extreme growth and reliable signaling in sexually selected ornaments and weapons. Science 337(6096):860–864CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fraser B (2012) Costly signalling theories: beyond the handicap principle. Biol Philos 27(2):263–278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Godfray HCJ (1991) Signalling of need by offspring to their parents. Nature 352(6333):328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grafen A (1990) Biological signals as handicaps. J Theor Biol 144(4):517–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Grose J (2011) Modelling and the fall and rise of the handicap principle. Biol Philos 26(5):677–696CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Higham JP (2014) How does honest costly signaling work? Behav Ecol 25(1):8–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Holman L (2012) Costs and constraints conspire to produce honest signaling: insights from an ant queen pheromone. Evolution 66(7):2094–2105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Huttegger SM, Bruner JP, Zollman KJ (2015) The handicap principle is an artifact. Philos Sci 82 (5):997–1009CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lachmann M, Számadó S, Bergstrom CT (2001) Cost and conflict in animal signals and human language. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 98(23):13189–13194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lüpold S, Manier MK, Puniamoorthy N, Schoff C, Starmer WT, Luepold SHB, Belote JM, Pitnick S (2016) How sexual selection can drive the evolution of costly sperm ornamentation. Nature 533(7604):535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Maynard Smith J (1991) Honest signalling: The philip sidney game. Animal BehaviourGoogle Scholar
  21. Maynard Smith J, Harper DG (1995) Animal signals: models and terminology. J Theor Biol 177(3):305–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Meacham F, Perlmutter A, Bergstrom CT (2013) Honest signalling with costly gambles. J R Soc Interface 10(87):20130469CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schaefer HM, Ruxton GD (2011) Plant-animal communication. OUP Oxford, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Searcy WA, Nowicki S (2005) The evolution of animal communication: reliability and deception in signaling systems. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  25. Summers K, Speed M, Blount J, Stuckert A (2015) Are aposematic signals honest? a review. J Evol Biol 28(9):1583– 1599CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Számadó S (2011) The cost of honesty and the fallacy of the handicap principle. Anim Behav 81(1):3–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Warren IA, Gotoh H, Dworkin IM, Emlen DJ, Lavine LC (2013) A general mechanism for conditional expression of exaggerated sexually-selected traits. Bioessays 35(10):889–899PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Zahavi A (1975) Mate selection – a selection for a handicap. J Theor Biol 53(1):205–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zollman KJ, Bergstrom CT, Huttegger SM (2013) Between cheap and costly signals: the evolution of partially honest communication. Proc R Soc B 280(1750):20121878CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Grassland Agro-Ecosystems, School of Life SciencesLanzhou UniversityLanzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Mathematical Analysis, Faculty of Mathematics and PhysicsCharles UniversityPraha 8Czech Republic
  3. 3.Department of Mathematics and StatisticsThe University of North Carolina at GreensboroGreensboroUSA

Personalised recommendations