What Are Signals Game Theory?


Vincent White

Signals in game theory are a crucial component that can impact the outcome of strategic decision-making. In game theory, a signal is an action or decision made by one player to communicate their information to another player. The primary aim of sending signals is to influence other players’ decisions and gain a competitive advantage.

How Do Signals Work in Game Theory?

In game theory, signals are used to convey information between players where asymmetric information exists. Asymmetric information means that one player has more knowledge about the game than the other. Signals help bridge this gap by allowing players to communicate their intentions.

For example, consider two companies that are competing for a contract bid. Company A has more knowledge about the project requirements than Company B, which puts Company B at a disadvantage. However, if Company A sends signals indicating its intention to bid high or low, it can influence Company B’s decision-making process.

Types of Signals

There are two types of signals in game theory: cheap talk and costly signals.

Cheap talk refers to messages that players send without any cost or consequence. These messages may not always be truthful and may not have any impact on the outcome of the game.

On the other hand, costly signals require effort or investment from the sender and therefore signal their intentions more credibly. Examples of costly signals include spending money on advertising campaigns or investing in research and development.

The Strategic Use of Signals

In game theory, signaling is often used strategically by players to manipulate their opponents’ actions. For example, a seller may signal high-quality products with high prices to attract buyers who value quality over price. Similarly, a buyer may signal their willingness to pay high prices for a product to influence sellers’ pricing decisions.

Players also use signals to avoid adverse selection – when one party has more information than the other and can take advantage of that information. For example, if a seller has more information about the quality of a product than a buyer, they may signal their product’s high quality to avoid selling only to buyers who value price over quality.


Signals play an essential role in game theory by allowing players to communicate their intentions and influence their opponents’ actions. By understanding the strategic use of signals, players can make more informed decisions and gain a competitive advantage in the game.

In conclusion, signals are an integral part of game theory that can impact the outcome of strategic decision-making. Whether it’s cheap talk or costly signals, understanding how to use them strategically is key to gaining a competitive edge in any game.