Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2020 Feb 7;15(2):e0228285.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0228285. eCollection 2020.

Does Information About Toughness Decrease Fighting? Experimental Evidence

Free PMC article

Does Information About Toughness Decrease Fighting? Experimental Evidence

Aron Szekely et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


Will fights erupt when resources are scarce and the rules regulating their distribution are absent or ignored? We conjecture that the answer depends on whether credible information about individuals' toughness is available. When people send credible signs and signals of their toughness disputes may be solved without violence. We use a laboratory experiment in which subjects create information about their toughness and decide whether to take others' resources and resist in case others' attempt to take theirs. Subjects perform a potentially painful but safe physical exercise to create information and to determine who wins and loses fights. This, realistically, ranks subjects according to their toughness and implicates toughness, a quality important in real conflict, in fighting. We find that, consistent with theory, information reduces fighting. This suggests that, in addition to the theories traditionally used to explain prisoner behavior, the availability of credible information about toughness influences prison conflict.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Our prison entry game.
Fig 2
Fig 2. The design and treatments.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Sample breakdown.
Fig 4
Fig 4. When there is information, (A) V challenge less and (B) R resist the same.
Fig 5
Fig 5. Information decreases fighting, does not affect status quo, and slightly increases exploitation in simulated outcomes.

Similar articles

See all similar articles


    1. Gambetta D. Codes of the underworld: How criminals communicate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 2009.
    1. Gambetta D. Signaling In: Hedström P, Bearman P, editors. The Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2009. p. 168–94.
    1. Spence MA. Job market signaling. Quarterly Journal of Economics. 1973;87(3):355–74.
    1. Spence MA. Market signaling: Informational transfer in hiring and related screening processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1974.
    1. Cho I-K, Kreps DM. Signaling games and stable equilibria. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 1987;102(2):179.

Publication types

Grant support

AS was partly supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [grant number ES/I022066/1]. The experiment received support from the Travel and Research Fund, St Cross College, University of Oxford, and, from the European Research Council (Starting Grant 241196) PI Marco Casari. There was no additional external funding received for this study.