Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Costly Signaling Theory

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3483-1



“Costly signaling theory” proposes that animals (including humans) may send honest signals about desirable personal characteristics and access to resources through costly biological displays, altruism, or other behaviors that would be hard to fake.


The existence of altruism was something of an obstacle for early evolutionary theorists, since an organism that engaged in behavior that came at a great personal cost and seemed to solely benefit other individuals appeared difficult for natural selection to explain. It was not until the introduction of the concept of inclusive fitness, also known as kin selection, by Hamilton in 1964 that evolutionists had a satisfactory theoretical framework for discussing altruism. The concept of kin selection, however, could not account for the many altruistic acts performed for individuals who are not genetic kin. An additional form of altruism, reciprocal altruism...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Knox CollegeGalesburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kevin Kniffin
    • 1
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityIthacaUSA