Live Fast Die Young: Updating Signal Detection Theory

Signal Detection Theory is a popular and well-established idea that has influenced behavioral science for around 50 years. Essentially, the theory holds that in a predator-prey relationship, prey animals will show more wariness and be more prone to flee as predators become more common. Danger signals are ambiguous, so in what appears to be a threatening situation, animals are better off running than hanging around to see if a predator really does strike.

Now Pete Trimmer, a postdoctoral research at UC Davis, has taken a fresh look at signal detection theory and come up with what at first look like counterintuitive results. In many cases, he says, animals should actually become less cautious as the risk of predation rises.