handicap principle(redirected from Costly signaling theory)
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handicap principleA hypothesis that the extravagance of an animal’s mating displays proves individual strength, because animals with handicaps do not have the strength for mating dominance.
Huge antlers for deer stags.
The cost or handicap is a virtual guarantee of the honesty of the display; if there were no cost to the display—e.g., proof of the stag’s superiority by fighting other males—there would be rampant cheating, and observers (other stags) would learn to ignore the “false” displays. Because antlers are costly, it would not be worthwhile for a weaker stag to produce large antlers and try to “bluff” his way into mating superiority.