Multiple hypotheses attempt to explain the evolution of female choice. Some of these suggest direct benefits to females, such as protection, shelter, or nuptial gifts that sway the female's choice of mate. Another hypothesis is that females choose mates with good genes. Males with more exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics, such as bigger, brighter peacock trains, tend to have better genes in the peahen's eyes. These better genes will directly benefit her offspring, as well as her fitness and reproductive success. Runaway selection also seeks to clarify the evolution of the peacock's train. In runaway sexual selection, linked genes in males and females code for sexually dimorphic traits in males, and preference for those traits in females. The close spatial association of alleles for loci involved in the train in males, and for preference for more exuberant trains in females, on the chromosome (linkage disequilibrium) causes a positive feedback loop that exaggerates both the male traits and the female preferences. Another hypothesis is sensory bias, in which females have a preference for a trait in a non-mating context that becomes transferred to mating. Multiple causality for the evolution of female choice is also possible.
The functions of the elaborate iridescent coloration and large "train" of peacocks have been the subject of extensive scientific debate. Charles Darwin suggested they served to attract females, and the showy features of the males had evolved by sexual selection . More recently, Amotz Zahavi proposed in his handicap theory that these features acted as honest signals of the males' fitness, since less fit males would be disadvantaged by the difficulty of surviving with such large and conspicuous structures.