The evolution of covert signaling in diverse societies
Department of Cognitive and Information Sciences, University of California, Merced
Identity signals are common components of communication transmissions that inform receivers of the signaler’s membership (or non-membership) in a subset of individuals. Signals can be overt, broadcast to all possible receivers, or covert, encrypted so that only similar receivers are likely to perceive their identity-relevant meaning. I’ll present an instrumental theory of identity signaling as a mechanism for social assortment, formalized with both analytical and agent-based models. Covert signaling is favored when signalers are generous toward strangers, when costs of being discovered as dissimilar are high, and when the ability to assort only with preferred partners is restricted. Covert signaling should be more common among members of “invisible” minorities, who are less likely to encounter similar individuals by chance. I’ll also discuss empirical projects underway to test and extend this theoretical framework using online political communication. This work has implications for theories of signaling and cooperation, social identity, pragmatics, politics, and the maintenance of diversity.