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The Handicap Principle: A Missing Piece of Darwin's Puzzle Paperback

ISBN-13: 978-0195129144 ISBN-10: 0195129148

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (June 3, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195129148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195129144
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #901,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Since the time of Darwin, altruism and other forms of cooperation have puzzled evolutionary biologists. Several theories have been proposed to explain these behaviors, but each has weaknesses in the framework of traditional natural selection. The Zahavis, working with babblers (group-living birds), developed the handicap principle and signal selection to explain these apparent paradoxes. (Their theory proposes that when an animal behaves altruistically, it does so to increase its status within its group as a partner or rival.) This book presents their evidence, elaborated in many technical papers since the 1970s, to explain such behaviors in babblers and such diverse organisms as slime molds, social insects, peafowl, and human children playing tag. The handicap principle is an important new theory that explains many seemingly diverse problems in evolutionary biology. This book is highly readable yet rigorous enough for specialists. Essential for any academic collection and worthwhile for general collections.?Bruce D. Neville, Univ. of New Mexico Lib., Albuquerque
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"This is an excellent review of the complicated components of Zahavi's handicap principle."--Robert G. Jaeger, University of Southwestern Louisiana

"Great overview, treats all perspectives fairly..."--Mary Victoria McDonald, University of Central Arkansas

"Among the most revolutionary and controversial concepts in modern behavioral biology is the handicap principle developed by Zahavi. After initially encountering resistance, it has been receiving increased acceptance for its success in explaining an enormous variety of animal behaviors and anatomical structures, from gazelles' seemingly suicidal displays to men's beards. Read this fine book, and discover what the excitement is all about!"--Jared M. Diamond, Professor of Physiology, University of California at Los Angeles

"This fascinating, provocative, insightful and controversial book will charm, inform and sometimes infuriate all of those interested in understanding animal and human communication."--Paul Ekman, Professor of Psychology, University of California, San Francisco

"By now the Handicap Principle is acknowledged by a growing body of biologists, and by joining their forces Amotz and Avishang Zahavi explain the principle and how it applies to communicative behaviour between organisms...from amebas to humans."--Arne Lundberg, Uppsala University, Sweden

"[An] extremely well-written popularization of the authors' scientific work. Covering species as different as tigers and barn swallows, and topics as diverse as parasitism and parental care, the authors apply their theory to many aspects of animal behavior that were difficult to explain previously.... Highly recommended."--Booklist

"This book is highly readable yet rigorous enough for specialists. Essential for any academic collection and worthwhile for genearal collections."--Library Journal

"The Zahavis write well, with admirable clarity...Very readable book"--Science Books and Films

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Why does the peacock grow that tail? Why does the springbok leap straight up into the air when it sees a predator? Why do people behave heroically? The handicap principle answers these questions, eloquently, simply and with an overwhelming sense of conviction. The peacock is advertising his fitness. He is saying to the female in essence, I am so fit I can carry around this cumbersome adornment and still scratch out a very fine living. The springbok is saying to the predator: don't even think about going after me. I am in such good shape I can waste energy jumping up and down and still have plenty of reserves to outrun you. Save us both the bother and go after someone weaker. (By the way, the springbok jumps straight up instead of sideways because by jumping straight up its performance can be effectively judged by a predator from any direction.) And the man who dives into the swiftly flowing river to save a drowning child is actually advertising his fitness and improving his station in society. He is so fit he can take chances that others dare not. He's the man the women want to mate with.

The Handicap Principle thus is about signals, signals between prey and predator, between one sex and the other, and between the individual and the group. The purpose of these signals is to display in an unequivocal way the fitness of the signaler. Note that such signals have to be "fake proof." They have to be what the authors call "reliable." An animal that can't run fast and has limited resources of energy can't waste them jumping in the air. It needs to get going immediately or to stay hidden if it is to have any chance of survival. A man leads with his chin. That's a signal that he's confident.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Guy the Gorilla on November 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is certainly one of the better books on evolution I have read recently. It is laid out in a remarkably cogent and logical manner, and the writing style is clear, crisp, and interesting. In the first chapter, the authors explain the problem they are trying to explain (why so many animals exhibit certain specific risky behaviours and traits, which at first glance seem counter-intuitive to evolutionary theory), and then present their thesis. Subsequent chapters are devoted to the systematic exploration of their hypothesis, while providing a fair and balanced examination of alternate explanations. Thus the book is a great example of the scientific method being implemented by true scientists, and the authors are to be congratulated for laying their ideas out so clearly and logically.

The risky behaviors and traits in question are those seen in animals like the springbok, the most fit of which literally taunt approaching predators by jumping straight up and down. For many years, this behavior was interpreted as altruistic; the idea being that these springboks were trying to warn the other springboks of the approaching danger.

The Zahavi's present an alternate explanation. They agree that the leaping springboks are definitely trying to send a message to their fellows, but it is not primarily intended to serve as a warning (although it may well serve that secondary purpose to some springboks in the back of the herd who have not yet seen the approaching lion.) The Zahavi's argue that these springboks are trying to show off, to communicate to their peers: "I am so fit, I can waste energy leaping around rather than simply running away. Lady springboks, you should come visit me after the danger has passed; male springboks, do not even think of messing with me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A compelling addition to the literature on natural selection and evolution. The Handicap Principle illustrates with compelling examples the reasons for the evolution of much animal behavior, coloring, and communication. A bit heavy on zoology for non-natural scientists, it however is a must read if you fancy yourself a student of evolution.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Design Wonk on February 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
In The Handicap Principle, the Zahavis have created a compelling case for a seemingly paradoxical revelation: Strength may only be demonstrated by showing vulnerability.

The simplest distillation of its central tenets is that interspecies or intraspecies communication must be costly in order to be meaningful. While it would be useful for any animal to be able to view another's cardiovascular health, the body provides few outright signals of its internal function ... or does it? Amazingly, many seemingly useless appendages like peacock's tails do precisely that. If a peacock can grow a perfectly symmetrical, useless tail, chances are it's in good physical health otherwise.

When we pause to try to determine which traits are considered beautiful, the likely candidates are those with no obvious survival value (long lustrous hair, unblemished skin, clear eyes, perfect teeth, symmetry, and artfully placed fat deposits). All of these traits are also the ones most vulnerable to parasites, and the first to fade in the event of poor health or old age. These are the last places an animal will put its nutritional resources if it was worried only about its daily survival. It is their very wastefulness that shows their value. While no one literally wears their hearts on their sleeves, our dermis is a fairly good proxy of our overall health. This is precisely because of its exceptional vulnerability.

Indeed, any time a scientist wants to test material properties, he or she usually has to break the sample that is being tested. It is only by showing vulnerability that true (breaking) strength can be gauged.

Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, published in 1899, and Nancy Etcoff's Survival of the Prettiest both form interesting companion pieces to this work.
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