Signalling theory and durable symbolic expression

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter develops links between theoretical frameworks in social and biological sciences about the origins and maintenance of durable stylistic traditions of graphic representation, exploring the role that symbolic performance plays in facilitating cooperation and collective action. The foundations of human propensities for coordinating complex social interactions lie in our ability for shared intentionality: we can represent to ourselves the interior lives and intentional states of others. This empathic capacity likely emerged in novel rearing environments of cooperative breeding, where infant survival required discerning and trusting the intent of many different possible caretakers. Trust in many arenas of interaction is ensured primarily through symbolic signalling, whereby communication of underlying qualities and motivations is made honest through costly performance. The authors draw on traditions in street art and rock art to illustrate how graphic representations serve as an important type of signalling system whose design serves to coordinate complex social interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology and Anthropology of Rock Art
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780190607357
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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