Which of the Following Best Describes Game Theory as It Applies to Animal Behaviour?


Diego Sanchez

Game theory is a mathematical framework that helps in understanding and predicting the behaviour of animals. It is used to study the interactions and decision-making processes of animals in various situations. Game theory provides a useful tool for biologists to model animal behaviour, especially in situations where individuals have to compete or cooperate with each other.

What is Game Theory?

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that studies decision-making in strategic situations where the outcome depends on the actions of multiple individuals. It was developed by mathematicians John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern in the 1940s. The theory has since been applied to fields beyond economics, including biology.

How does it apply to animal behaviour?

In the context of animal behaviour, game theory can help us understand various social interactions, such as competition, cooperation, and communication. For example, when animals compete for resources like food or mates, they may use different strategies to gain an advantage over their rivals.

Types of Games

There are two main types of games studied in animal behaviour: cooperative games and non-cooperative games.

  • Cooperative Games: These are games where individuals work together to achieve a common goal. For example, meerkats cooperate by taking turns standing guard while others hunt for food.
  • Non-Cooperative Games: These are games where individuals act independently without any coordination with others. For example, male lions competing for mating rights with females.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

One of the most famous examples of game theory is “The Prisoner’s Dilemma.” In this game, two players must decide whether or not to cooperate with each other or betray each other.

If both players cooperate, they both receive a moderate reward. If one player cooperates and the other betrays, the betrayer receives a high reward, and the cooperator receives a low reward. If both players betray each other, they both receive a low reward.

This game has been used to model various animal behaviours, such as cooperative hunting and predator detection. For example, meerkats may work together to hunt prey, but if one individual spots a predator, they may betray the others by fleeing to safety.


In conclusion, game theory is an essential tool for understanding animal behaviour. By modelling social interactions as games, biologists can predict how animals will behave in different situations. Understanding these behaviours can help us conserve endangered species and manage wildlife populations more effectively.