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Conspiratorial Whispers and Conspicuous Displays: Games of Signal Detection

Rufus A. Johnstone
Evolution
Vol. 52, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 1554-1563
DOI: 10.2307/2411329
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2411329
Page Count: 10
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Conspiratorial Whispers and Conspicuous Displays: Games of Signal Detection
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Abstract

Recent models of signaling have assumed that the expenditure required to ensure detection of a display is negligible and have concentrated instead on the costs that may be necessary to maintain honesty. Such models predict that individuals who share the same interests are likely to communicate using 'conspiratorial whispers,' signals that are cheap and inconspicuous. Here, I present a game-theoretical model of signal detection (in a noisy environment, in the presence of potential eavesdroppers), which demonstrates that the idea of conspiratorial whispers is far too simplistic. It is true that in 'cooperative' signaling systems (where signalers attempt to elicit responses that are beneficial for receivers), signal cost is not required to maintain honesty. However, some level of expenditure is still needed to ensure that a signal is reliably detected. Moreover, there exists a conflict of interest between signalers and receivers over the division of this expenditure. To predict the stable level of display in such cases, one needs to know how this conflict of interest will be resolved. The model reveals that the outcome may range from a whisper to a conspicuous and costly (though still conspiratorial) display. The more closely related the receiver is to the signaler, the greater the level of signal exaggeration that is expected-the opposite prediction to that of honest signaling models.

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