Scientists explain why love game is fraught with perils

January 18th, 2009 - 4:45 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 18 (IANS) A model developed by scientists delves into why courtship or the mating game is often protracted and fraught with perils. The study, by researchers by University College London (UCL), University of Warwick (UW) and LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science), shows that extended courtship enables a male to signal his suitability to a female and enables the female to reject him if unsuitable.

Robert Seymour, maths professor at the UCL, said: “Courtship in a number of animal species occurs over an extended period of time. Human courtship, for example, can involve a sequence of dinners, theatre trips and other outings lasting months or even years.”

“One partner - often the male - may pay the greater part of the financial cost, but to both sexes there is a significant cost of time which could be spent on other productive activities. Why don’t people and other animals speed things up to reduce these costs? The answer seems to be that longer courtship is a way for the female to acquire information about the male.” he said.

The research uses game theory to analyse how males and females behave strategically towards each other in the mating game.

The model considers a male and a female in a courtship encounter of unspecified duration, with the game ending when one or other party quits or the female accepts the male as a mate.

The model assumes that the male is either a “good” or a “bad” type from the female’s point of view, according to his condition or willingness to care for the young after mating.

The female gets a positive payoff from mating if the male is a “good” male but a negative payoff if he is “bad”, so it is in her interest to gain information about the male’s type with the aim of avoiding mating with a “bad” male.

The duration of a male’s courtship effort carries information about his type. By delaying mating, the female is able to make some use of this information to achieve a degree of screening.

Because bad males have a greater tendency to quit the courtship game early, as time goes on and the male has not quit it becomes increasingly probable that he is a “good” male.

Peter Sozou, UW Medical School 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,” said an UCL release.

“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,” he added.

These findings were published this month in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

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