Showing Off, Handicap Signaling, and the Evolution of Men's Work

Kristen Hawkes, Rebecca Bliege Bird

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

360 Scopus citations


Zahavi's1,2 handicap principle makes "waste" a common outcome of signal selection because the cost of a signal guarantees its honesty. The capacity to bear the cost reveals the show-off's hidden qualities, While displays take many forms, some also provide fitness-related benefits to the audience in addition to Information about the show-off. Zahavi 3 has used the handicap principle to explain both merely wasteful displays and altruistic behavior. Here we focus on the distinction between these two kinds of display and the importance of benefits other than Information in show-off explanations of a particular puzzle in human evolution: men's work. Males of other primate species do not contribute any significant fraction of the food consumed by females and juveniles. Our own species is different. When people live on wild foods, hunting is usually a specialty of men, and meat is commonly a substantial component of everyone's diet. Here we explore the hypothesis that this unique male subsistence contribution may have evolved as hunting large animals became a focus of competitive display.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-67
Number of pages10
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology


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