Various game theory models have been used to explain animal contests. Here we attend to the presumed cognitive abilities required by these models with respect to information gathering and consequent decision making. Some, such as the hawk/dove game and self-assessment models require very limited cognitive ability. By contrast, the broadly accepted sequential assessment model requires that contestants know their own abilities and compare them with information gathered about their opponent to determine which has the greater resource-holding power. However, evidence for assessment of relative abilities is sparse and we suggest that this complex ability is probably beyond most animals. Indeed, perceptual limitations may restrict information about an individual's own displays and thus preclude comparison. We take a parsimonious view and conclude that simple summation of causal factors accounts for changes in fight motivation without requiring mutual evaluation of relative abilities.