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It is current orthodoxy in biological game theory that in animal contests with easily recognized asymmetries between the contestants, an asymmetry will be used to settle the dispute. Here it is argued that, if the winning of contests plays a major part in gaining reproductive success, an individual will not be selected to respect an asymmetry which will place it always in the losing role. Asymmetries that create consistent losers of this sort are termed divisive asymmetries. Divisive asymmetries cannot be used to settle important contests in an evolutionarily stable way because the consistent losers will have no incentive to respect them. © 1987.

Original publication




Journal article


Animal Behaviour

Publication Date





462 - 467