A game theoretic approach to multimodal communication

Alistair J. Wilson, Mark Dean, James P. Higham

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Over the last few decades the animal communication community has become increasingly aware that much communication occurs using multiple signals in multiple modalities. The majority of this work has been empirical, with less theoretical work on the advantages conferred by such communication. In the present paper, we ask: Why should animals communicate with multiple signals in multiple modalities? To tackle this question we use game theoretic techniques, and highlight developments in the economic signaling literature that might offer insight into biological problems. We start by establishing a signaling game, and investigate signal honesty under two prevailing paradigms of honest communication - costly signaling and cheap talk. In both paradigms, without further constraint, it is simple to show that anything that can be achieved with multiple signals can be achieved with one. We go on to investigate different sets of possible constraints that may make multiple signals and multimodal signals in particular more likely to evolve. We suggest that constraints on cost functions and bandwidths, orthogonal noise across modalities, strategically distinct modes, multiple qualities, multiple signalers, and multiple audiences, all provide biologically plausible scenarios that theoretically favor multiple and multimodal signaling.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1399-1415
    Number of pages17
    JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
    Issue number9
    StatePublished - Sep 2013


    • Communication
    • Game theory
    • Multimodal communication

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
    • Animal Science and Zoology


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