Investment in attending to cues and the evolution of amplifiers

S. Hackett, Graeme Douglas Ruxton, H. M. Schaefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Signals and cues are extensively used in social interactions across diverse communication systems. Here, we extend an existing theoretical framework to explore investment by emitters and perceivers in the fidelity with which cues and signals associated with the former are detected by the latter. Traits of the emitter that improve cue or signal fidelity without adding information are termed ‘amplifiers’. We assume that each party can invest in improving fidelity but that it is increasingly costly the more fidelity is improved. Our model predicts that evolution of amplifier traits of a pre-existing cue occurs over a broader range of circumstances than evolution of signalling in situations where the emitter offered no pre-existing cue to the perceiver. It further predicts that the greater the intrinsic informational value of a cue, the more likely it is that the perceiver (and not the emitter) will invest in the fidelity of detecting that cue. A consequence of this predicted asymmetry is that true communication with reciprocal adaptations in emitters and perceivers to improve signal fidelity is likely to occur predominantly for traits of intermediate reliability. The corollary is that uncertainty of the perceiver will then be a key feature of communication. Uncertainty can arise because perceivers misinterpret signals or do not perceive them correctly, but here we argue that uncertainty is more fundamentally at the root of communication because traits that are intrinsically highly informative will induce only the perceiver and not the emitter to invest in improved fidelity of perception of that trait.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1141
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number6
Early online date20 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • Communication
  • Costs of signalling
  • Cues
  • Handicap signalling
  • Signalling

Cite this