Mechanisms of signal reliability and assessment Grant

Mechanisms of signal reliability and assessment .


  • Dishonest communication is widespread throughout in the animal kingdom, including humans, but mechanisms that produce dishonest signals are poorly understood. Likewise, researchers do not clearly understand how honest and dishonest communication coexists stably in communication systems, including our own. The central question in this study is how dishonesty alters the meaning of communication signals. To address this question, the project focuses on (i) how signal dishonesty and the physiological costs of signaling alter the reliability and meaning of communication signals, and (ii) how listeners assess the quality of signalers who inaccurately convey their particular qualities. This project investigates signal exaggeration by electric fish, an ideal model system because their signals can be quantified with unusual accuracy and manipulated pharmacologically. Methods will include electrophysiology, measurement of energetic output, endocrinology, and behavioral experiments. This project (1) quantifies three mechanisms that signalers use to control signal strength, (2) determines the behavioral meaning and reliability of signal strength under different social contexts, (3) determines how receivers assess and use information that has been altered by exaggeration, and (4) uses this information to address and revise theory of how communication systems can persist in the face of dishonesty and unreliability. The resources of this research project will be used to foster science education. This goal will be approached by assisting middle-school science teachers in devising a more engaging hands-on curriculum and by providing opportunities for direct mentorship of minority college and high school students.

date/time interval

  • April 16, 2010 - April 30, 2016

administered by

sponsor award ID

  • 0956603