Signaling - Principles #15

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Principles Series
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Apr 9, 2022 01:41 PM
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Signaling, among humans, is the act of professing or indicating a value that you hold. Naturally, it is also not a behavior that is unique to humans, and we can learn a lot about our version from how it is done in the animal kingdom.
While there is a whole field of signaling theory that you can read all about, the easiest example to get started is a gazelle’s act of stotting. Stotting involves jumping high up in the air in the presence of a predator.
A gazelle ‘stotting’. | Photo courtesy: Yathin sk
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At first blush this would make no sense – why give away your location and use up energy at the same time? For such a behavior to still be around, it must have some evolutionary advantage.
While there is still debate on the topic, many regard this as a case of ‘honest signaling.’ The gazelle is demonstrating (both to the predator and potential mates) that it is fit and could still run away if necessary.
The cousin of an honest signal is a dishonest signal – cases where an animal bluffs the honest signal. Especially in cases where the honest signal is not costly to give, bluffing becomes more enticing. So while a gazelle’s jump is quite risky (costly) and may not encourage bluffing, lower cost signals will be more likely to be bluffed.
Of course, this is all interesting in the world of animals, but becomes meaningful when we look at how humans do it in society, especially in the age of social media. But that will have to be a story for tomorrow. Stay tuned!