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The mating game and why you can't hurry love

Photograph of flamingoesAn LSE researcher has helped to develop a mathematical model of the mating game to help explain why courtship is often drawn out.

Duration of courtship effort as a costly signal, by Dr Peter Sozou, research associate, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, LSE and Professor Robert Seymour, Mathematics, University College London (UCL) shows that extended courtship enables a male to signal his suitability to a female and enables the female to screen out the male if he is unsuitable as a mate.

The research, published in the January edition of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, uses game theory to analyse how males and females behave strategically towards each other in the mating game.

Dr Peter Sozou, LSE Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and Warwick Medical School and, said: 'From a female's point of view, males are not all equal. A female would like to mate with a good male, but cannot tell a male's type from his appearance alone.

'The strategic problem the female faces is how to screen out bad males, and this is where long courtship comes into play. A male is assumed to always want to mate with a female, but a good male is more willing to pay the cost of a long courtship in order to claim the prize of mating. This leads to an outcome in which the female is not willing to mate immediately, but instead requires the male to wait for an indeterminate time before she agrees to mate with him. During this time, the male may give up on courting the female.

'Bad males give up at some random time if the female has not by then mated with them, but good males are more persistent and do not give up. The female's strategy is a compromise - a trade-off between on the one hand the greater risk of mating with a bad male if she mates too quickly, and on the other hand the time cost of delay. Under this compromise there remains some risk that she will mate with the wrong type of male. She cannot eliminate this risk completely unless she decides never to mate.'

Click here to download a PDF of Duration of courtship effort as a costly signal.

For more information please contact:

Dr Peter Sozou on 020 7955 7085 or 024 7652 2300or at p.sozou@lse.ac.uk or p.d.sozou@warwick.ac.uk

Professor Robert Seymour on 020 7679 2858, or at rms@math.ucl.ac.uk

LSE Press Office, Esther Avery on 020 7955 7066 or at e.avery@lse.ac.uk

UCL Press Office, Jenny Gimpel 020 7679 9726 or at j.gimpel@ucl.ac.uk


19 January 2009