Signals Are Forever

Regarding signaling issues in relationships, couples often say “Yes that was tough, but thankfully we are past that now.”  They think that yes they had to do lots of signaling as they were getting to know each other, but now that they know each other well there is no need for such things.  In Spent, Geoffrey Miller also didn’t think it made sense to signal to your close friends and associates via what you wear or the music you like, etc.; your friends already know you well, after all.

A man sometimes thinks that after all he has done for a woman surely she must know he loves her and he doesn’t need to keep showing it by saying so, giving gifts, holding doors, etc.  Usually such men are in for a rude awakening.  Signals are forever, because we can always change.  Yes, she might have been very sure that he loved her last year, but today there is a small nagging doubt about whether he still loves her.  So he must continue to signal to reassure her.

He might think that since the chance is very small that his love has changed since yesterday, the signal needed to reassure her is also very small.  But in the simplest standard signaling models, the amount that each type must signal is independent of the distribution of types; it only depends on what types have a non-zero probability.  As long as there is any chance that your love has changed, if you don’t signal your continued love she may well conclude that your love has in fact changed.  And you have to work hard enough with your signal to distinguish yourself from someone who doesn’t care as much as you.

Even if you’ve come to work in a suit and tie for twenty years, the day you come in a bathing suit, your coworkers may well suspect that your work ethic has changed.  So you have to wear that suit one more day.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • AndrewKemendo

    Sounds like someone had a spat with the wife ;). It seems like what we take as mundane day to day often has the best potential for insights into cognitive development.

    • http://transhumangoodness.blogspot.com/ Roko

      > Sounds like someone had a spat with the wife 😉

      Yes, that was my first thought, too. Perhaps you should show her this blog post? Look, I ranted at the internet just for you! Look how much I must love you x

  • JimS

    Most of us, while courting, do the pea-cock routine. I’m sure while courting my partner all of my witty anecdotes came out at once, with me holding my belly in, and pretending to enjoy an expensive wine far more than I really did. Like insurance companies, though, (or debt ratings agencies) it is the responsibility of the courted to screen potential mates.

    The problem with this setup, and I believe the problem with many fresh relationships, is the capacity for courtees’ due diligence to be falsely interpreted; for the wooed to paint a picture in their minds of two-point-four children, weekly treks, and a Volvo, rather than long hours, take away Thai food, and a bus ticket. When the initial signals, upon which these pictures are formed, are incongruous with reality, relationships go acrid.

    Is perpetuating the initial signals any more than fulfilling the unrealistic images drawn in one’s partner’s head? And if so, is it you they love?

  • http://lesswrong.com/ CannibalSmith

    But I’ll suffer ego depletion!

  • thunga

    During courting, the male generally signals to a large population. The convinced female should sense that amongst all his signals, the maximum intensity is towards her. This generally sorts itself out with its own ups and downs. The male to signal with maximum intensity, he would need some positive prodding from the female and so on…

    After marriage, unless there is some competition, a bit of right signaling is probably sufficient…

    Isn’t the world more relative than most ppl think??!

    bathing suit premise has been changed drastically just to drive across a point which is not really comparable… 🙂 bathing suit during a beach casual day at office is probably more analogous? comparison should be possible!!

    • thunga

      After marriage, unless there is some competition, a bit of right signaling is probably sufficient…

      has to be

      After marriage, unless there is some competition(real/imaginary), a bit of right signaling is probably sufficient… imaginary scenarios are the ones where there is a inherent feeling of competitions even though it might be an impossible situation … I don’t know the right cultural example but in some societies, it could be a film actress or some office gal etc…

      disclaimer: just a theory 🙂

  • Doug S.

    Even if you’ve come to work in a suit and tie for twenty years, the day you come in a bathing suit, your coworkers may well suspect that your work ethic has changed. So you have to wear that suit one more day.

    Indeed.

  • blink

    While signaling continues, we may feel it less. That is, often times our tastes change to favor the signaling activity itself so the cost of signaling falls. Probably any “acquired taste” could fall into this category; food, drink, and music certainly count, and some people develop a taste for wearing suits. So the person who says, “Yes that was tough…” may be correct about the subjective tough part even if no behavior changes.

    • kinbote

      if our character and preferences align with a behavior then that behavior is a reliable signal. whether or not others perceive the behavior as reliable depends on the likelihood of other individuals using it to create a false impression.

  • http://alpha-status.blogspot.com/ Master Dogen

    Interesting post. I agree with the overall statement that one must continue signalling activity to maintain the status quo. But I have a different take on what kind of signals to send the woman and what kind of status quo to maintain. I’m more prone to expect gifts than proffer them.

    This of course does nothing to discredit the central assertion of Robin’s post, which is that whatever signals set in motion the particular relationship must be maintained in order to maintain it in a similar state.

    I wrote my extended thoughts here.

  • http://truth-about-women.blogspot.com Jack Lover

    For some people relationships are contracts, and for some people their current emotional state, and for yet others action in relationships.

    The most common combination is that man thinks relationship as contract and woman feels relationship as emotional state. This causes endless confusion when people do not recognize it.

    For people who feel relationship as emotional state, constant signaling is much more important than for people who think relationship as contract or those for whom relationship is about action.

  • Pingback: Les liens du matin (52) « Rationalité Limitée

  • anonymous

    Yowza, such “distain” for signalling, Robin. Why?

    It’s good to be good at something. It’s great to be good while
    appearing to devote little effort.
    Some signalling is dishonest, and each of us has an incentive to convince others that we are more honest than we are.
    Signalling is competitive, and each of us has an incentive to
    convince others to compete a little less.
    Some of us can afford to signal less in certain areas and
    still appear obviously superior. Exuding distain really rubs it in.

    Is distain warranted? In my view, a great deal of signalling is likely to be both honest and fun. Honest a la Zahavi. Fun because fitness-enhancing activities are pleasurable, and the most fitness-enhancing activities are the ones we’re relatively good at. What’s not to like (besides the signalling-ugliness of saying, “signalling is great!”)?

  • Pingback: Interessantes woanders (2009.06.24) › Immersion I/O

  • http://www.cmp.uea.ac.uk/~jrk Richard Kennaway

    A man sometimes thinks that after all he has done for a woman surely she must know he loves her and he doesn’t need to keep showing it by saying so, giving gifts, holding doors, etc.

    How bizarre. Let’s try a transposition of that:

    A full professor sometimes thinks that after all he has done for the university surely they must know he’s brilliant and he doesn’t need to keep showing it by writing papers, teaching, supervising grad students, etc.

    or:

    A lawyer sometimes thinks that after all he has done for the partnership surely the partners must know he’s a good lawyer and he doesn’t need to keep showing it by winning cases.

    There is something fundamentally missing from all three analyses.

    BTW, these are not caricatures. I have actually heard a professor say pretty much the above. “The department appointed me, that means they must be satisfied with my performance, so why do they insist on counting my publications every year?” It’s called “resting on one’s laurels.”

    • Jess Riedel

      I think there is a important distinction. In the case of the Lawyer and Professor, they are expected to continue to produce actual, useful output. In the case of the husband, his displays of affection are just signals with no intrinsic value. So we are not surprised when the Lawyer and Professor are expected to continue to produce, but might be surprised by the husbands situation without a signaling theory explanation.

  • Larry

    Have you considered writing a book on this and similar topics?

  • gd

    Love isn’t a trait, its a verb.

  • Pingback: Overcoming Bias : 40% of US Moms Unwed

  • Ben

    Absense of evidence is evidence of absence: all the time you’re not signalling your love, you’re better half should be downgrading their estimation of your love

  • Pingback: CONTENTS PAGE | Kinkementary Dating |