The Analogical Peacock Hypothesis: The Sexual Selection of Mind-Reading and Relational Cognition in Human Communication

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19 Citations (Scopus)


This integrative review presents a novel hypothesis as a basis for integrating two evolutionary viewpoints on the origins of human cognition and communication, the sexual selection of human mental capacities, and the social brain hypothesis. This new account suggests that mind-reading social skills increased reproductive success and consequently became targets for sexual selection. The hypothesis proposes that human communication has three purposes: displaying mind-reading abilities, aligning and maintaining representational parity between individuals to enable displays, and the exchange of propositional information. Intelligence, creativity, language, and humor are mental fitness indicators that signal an individual’s quality to potential mates, rivals, and allies. Five features central to the proposed display mechanism unify these indicators, the relational combination of concepts, large conceptual knowledge networks, processing speed, contextualization, and receiver knowledge. Sufficient between-mind alignment of conceptual networks allows displays based upon within-mind conceptual mappings. Creative displays communicate previously unnoticed relational connections and novel conceptual combinations demonstrating an ability to read a receiver’s mind. Displays are costly signals of mate quality with costs incurred in the developmental production of the neural apparatus required to engage in complex displays and opportunity costs incurred through time spent acquiring cultural knowledge. Displays that are fast, novel, spontaneous, contextual, topical, and relevant are hard-to-fake for lower quality individuals. Successful displays result in elevated social status and increased mating options. The review addresses literatures on costly signaling, sexual selection, mental fitness indicators, and the social brain hypothesis; drawing implications for nonverbal and verbal communication.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-287
Number of pages21
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013


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