Signalling theory concerns evolved behavior that is aimed at signaling emotional states and other information to conspecifics or even other species. In the context of human mating, this involves signaling of social belonging, socio-economic status or genetic quality.
Costly signalling[edit | edit source]
Signals need to be reliable to be useful. A signal would be unreliable if it was easy to fake. Hence, there is evolutionary pressure for signals to be hard to fake (i.e. costly), which is called the handicap principle.
This may in part explain why humans (especially males) engage in risky behavior even if it is not high in material return. For example males may engage in extreme sports or buy cars they can barely afford as reliable signals that they have particularly good genes or are wealthy.
Costly signaling is an alternative explanation for Fisherian runaway for certain exaggerated adaptations such as the peacock tail.
However, costly signaling does not necessarily be exaggerated. E.g. coolness can be regarded as a costly signal of superiority (countersignaling).
Investing a too high cost can, however, reduce perceived signal reliability as it may be viewed as hiding or compensating for a latent issue. For this reason nice guys are distrusted and largely avoided by women.
Virtue signaling[edit | edit source]
Humans pretty much automatically engage in signaling their virtues and values all the time, presumably because groups with shared goals and values have less conflict.
Since virtue signaling is mostly cheap it is not very reliable and hence prone to abuse.
Virtue signaling is almost synonymous with in-group signalling, which however concerns values tied to a group identity in particular.