Costly Signaling in Human Communication

Authored by: Scott A. Reid , Jinguang Zhang , Grace L. Anderson , Lauren Keblusek

The Handbook of Communication Science and Biology

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  May  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815376712
eBook ISBN: 9781351235587
Adobe ISBN:


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If certain communications (e.g., mating or threat calls) increase the likelihood of accessing fitness-enhancing resources, then individuals will communicate to gain benefits without reciprocation. If cheating were too common, however, receivers could not distinguish signalers of varying quality and signals would not be worth attending to. Costly signaling theory solves this problem: Signal reliability is ensured when high-quality signalers pay tolerable costs that are prohibitive for low-quality signalers. This chapter illustrates the theory, discusses work on human aggressive intention signaling, and offers a theory of laughter. Costly signaling theory should inspire new research on human communication science.

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