Resource holding potential, subjective resource value, and game theoretical models of aggressiveness signalling

J Theor Biol. 2006 Aug 7;241(3):639-48. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2006.01.001. Epub 2006 Feb 9.


Empirical evidence suggests that aggressiveness (willingness to enter into, or escalate an aggressive interaction) may be more important than the ability to win fights in some species. Both empirical and theoretical traditions treat aggressiveness as a distinct property from the ability (RHP) or motivation (subjective resource value) to win a fight. I examine how these three traits are clearly distinct when modelled using a simple strategic model of escalation. I then examine game theoretical models of agonistic communication and demonstrate that models in which aggressiveness is signalled require: (1) a trait, aggressiveness, which is neither a correlate, nor consequence of RHP or motivation, (2) a handicap which negates any benefit to be gained through the use of a particular signal, and (3) the absence of any other asymmetry which could be used to assign roles to players. I conclude that it is unlikely that these assumptions are ever met, and that empirical examples of "aggressiveness" are far more likely to represent long-term differences in subjective resource value.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression*
  • Animal Communication
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Choice Behavior
  • Competitive Behavior
  • Game Theory*
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation