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J Theor Biol. 2001 Nov 7;213(1):103-19.

Costly signaling and cooperation.

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Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA.


We propose an explanation of cooperation among unrelated members of a social group in which cooperation evolves because it constitutes an honest signal of the member's quality as a mate, coalition partner or competitor, and therefore results in advantageous alliances for those signaling in this manner. Our model is framed as a multi-player public goods game that involves no repeated or assortative interactions, so that non-cooperation would be a dominant strategy if there were no signaling benefits. We show that honest signaling of underlying quality by providing a public good to group members can be evolutionarily stable, and can proliferate in a population in which it is initially rare, provided that certain plausible conditions hold, including a link between group-beneficial signaling and underlying qualities of the signaler that would be of benefit to a potential mate or alliance partner. Our model applies to a range of cooperative interactions, including unconditionally sharing individually consumable resources, participating in group raiding or defense, and punishing free-riding or other violations of social norms.

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