E&E Webinar: “Crazy Love”: Nonlinearity and irrationality in mate choice

Link to view the seminar recording.

Choosing a mate is one of the most important decisions an animal can make. The fitness costs and benefits of mate choice have been analysed extensively in the context of sexual selection, and the neural and hormonal bases of mate choice have provided insights into how animals make such decisions. Less attention, however, has been given to higher-level cognitive processes involved in this decision making. The assumption that animals choose mates predictably and rationally is an important assumption in both ultimate and proximate analyses of mate choice. It is becoming clear, however, that basic assumptions of rationality are often violated and unpredictable nonlinearities often emerge in mate choice. Here I review studies in which cognitive analyses seem to play an important role in the following contexts: auditory grouping; Weber’s law; competitive decoys; multimodal communication; and, perceptual rescue. The sum of these studies suggest that mate choice decisions are more complex than they might seem and suggest some caution in making assumptions about evolutionary processes and simplistic mechanisms of mate choice.


Michael J. Ryan is the Clark Hubbs Regents Professor in Zoology at the University of Texas, Austin. and a Senior Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. His primary research interests are in the evolution and mechanisms of animal behavior, especially animal communication and sexual selection. Mike is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Guggenheim Foundation. He has received numerous awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Animal Behavior Society (2017), the E.O. Wilson Naturalist Award from the American Society of Naturalists (2010) and the Joseph Grinnell Medal from the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (UC, Berkeley; 2008). He has published more than 350 full scientific papers, including 16 in Science and Nature. He has also published five books. the most recent is "A Taste for the Beautiful, The Evolution of Attraction”.