Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

The Handicap Principle

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2100-1



The Handicap Principle suggests that many aspects of animal morphology, behavior, and communication are best understood as handicaps. A handicap reliably advertises an animal’s quality because it signals that the organism is of sufficient quality to tolerate the burden the handicap places on it. Central to this principle is the idea that the costliness of the handicap ensures the reliability of the message being conveyed.


Upon spotting African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), Thomson’s gazelles (Gazella thomsoni) will sometimes start stotting– repeatedly leaping up and down using all four legs. Instead of fleeing to safety, these gazelles call attention to themselves, squandering valuable time and energy. Why do they engage in such an ostensibly dangerous behavior, and how could it possibly be favored by natural selection? The answer lies in the handicap principle – one of the oddest and most counterintuitive theories in...

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Colorado – Colorado SpringsColorado SpringsUSA
  2. 2.College of Life Sciences, Institute for Advanced StudyBerlinGermany
  3. 3.School of Psychology and Exercise Science, Murdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Karin Machluf
    • 1
  1. 1.Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA