Based on 20 years of painstaking observation, The Handicap Principle offers a unifying theory that brilliantly explains many previously baffling aspects of animal signaling and holds up a mirror to ordinary human behaviors. Authors Amotz and ...
Avishag Zahavi assert that for animal signals to be effective they must be reliable, and to be reliable they must impose a cost, or handicap, on the signaler. When a gazelle sights a wolf and jumps high into the air before fleeing, it is signaling that it is in tip-top condition, easily able to outrun the wolf. By momentarily handicapping itself, the gazelle underscores the truthfulness of its signal.
The authors also convincingly demonstrate that when an animal acts altruistically, it handicaps itself--assumes a risk or endures a sacrifice--not primarily to benefit its kin or social group but to increase its own prestige within the group and thus signal its status as a partner or rival. Finally, the Zahavis show how many forms of non-verbal interaction among humans--tones of voice, facial expressions, body postures--can also be explained by the Handicap Principle, and underscore the enormously important role of such behavior plays in human communication.