Receiver tolerance for imperfect signal reliability: Results from experimental signalling games

Timothy J. Polnaszek, David W Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This paper presents an alternative approach to studying signaller-receiver interactions. The conventional approach focuses on signal reliability; instead, we focus on receivers' willingness to tolerate imperfect reliability (receiver tolerance). Both approaches aim to explain what promotes and maintains communication. We define receiver tolerance as following a signal in the face of reduced reliability. We used experimental signalling games with blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata, subjects to demonstrate whether uncertain environments generate receiver tolerance for imperfect reliability. Many models of signalling games ignore environmental certainty or predictability, but this certainty is a key part of understanding receiver tolerance. For example, low environmental certainty should increase tolerance since receivers are more uncertain about which action to take. We also tested whether signallers exploit receiver tolerance by signalling dishonestly. The results show that receivers are more likely to heed signals when environments are uncertain. Moreover, signallers are sensitive to this receiver tolerance and, when signallers and receivers have opposing material interests, low environmental certainty promotes dishonest signalling and high certainty restricts it. Our results highlight the usefulness of an approach emphasizing receiver tolerance and demonstrate the critical importance of environmental certainty for signaller-receiver interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Aug 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We offer many thanks to the undergraduate staff that helped care for the subjects during the course of this research. We thank T. L. Rubi, V. K. Heinen, E. C. Carter, T. J. Bergman and two anonymous referees for comments that improved this manuscript. This project was approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, University of Minnesota (protocol number 1109A04421). This work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation ( IOS-077221 ). Funding support for T.J.P. was provided by the Dayton Fund of the Bell Museum of Natural History and by the Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Department, University of Minnesota .


  • Communication
  • Environmental certainty
  • Honesty
  • Receiver tolerance
  • Signal reliability


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