Listen to a conversation between a student and a professor.
Hi, Professor Anderson. That was a really interesting lecture in class today.
Thanks, Tom.Yeah, animals' use of deception… ways they play tricks on other animals ... that's a fascinating area. One we're really just starting to understand.
Yeah.You know, selective adaptations over time are one thing... oh, like uh, nonpoisonous butterflies that have come to look like poisonous ones...
But the idea that animals of the same species intentionally deceive each other... I'd never heard that before.
Right, like . . .[thinking of another example] uh, like-there are male frogs who lower their voices and end up sounding bigger than they really are.
[uttered as a statement, not a question]So they do that to keep other frogs from invading their territory.
Right. Bigger frogs have deeper voices, so if a smaller frog can imitate that deep voice,well...
Yeah, I can see how that might do the trick.
But uh...anyway ... what I wanted to ask was, when you started talking about game theory, well, I know a little bit about it, but I'm not clear about its use in biology.
Yeah...it's fairly new to biology.
Basically, it uses math to predict what an individual will do under certain circumstances.
For example- [brief pause, thinking of example]a business sells ... oh, computers, say.
And they want to sell their computers to a big university. But there's another company bidding, too. So what should they do?
[continuing the line of thought not venturing a guess]Well, try to offer the lowest price so they can compete, but still make money.
Right, they're competing-like a game, like the frogs.
There're risks with pricing too high, the other company might get the sale ... there's also the number and type of computers to consider.
Each company has to find a balance between the costs and benefits.
Well, game theory creates mathematical models that analyze different conditions like these to predict outcomes.
OK, I-I get that. But how does it apply to animals?
Well...You know, if you're interested in this topic, it would be perfect for your term paper.
[Unenthusiastically] The literature review?
Yeah. Find three journal articles about this . . . or another topic that interests you...and discuss them.
If there's a conflict in the conclusions or something...that'd be important to discuss.
[Pessimistic, doesn’t think he can do it]Well, from what I've looked at dealing with game theory... I can't say I understand much of the statistics end.
Well, I can point you to some that present fairly basic studies... that don't assume much background knowledge.
You'll just need to answer a few specific questions... what was the researchers' hypothesis ... what did they want to find out.
And how did they conduct their research... and then the conclusions they came to.
Learning to interpret the statistics will come later.