Symposium on The Functions of Gossip - Insights from the Lab and the Field


Gossip, defined as communication about an absent person, is often characterized as useless or bad. Yet, emerging theorizing suggests that gossip may serve key functions in human society, such as enabling large-scale cooperation. In this symposium, we use novel insights from the lab and the field to shed light on the functions of gossip. Annika Nieper tackles the question of whether gossip deters lying in a die rolling task. Behavioral data show people lie less when others can gossip about their behavior, whereas being merely observed does not. Moving beyond the lab, Catherine Molho and Terence Dores Cruz focus on everyday gossip and examine when people engage in gossip and how gossip is used to influence receiver behavior, respectively. Results show engaging in gossip is context-dependent. People tend to gossip in response to norm violations, when experiencing anger and disgust, and when retaliation costs are large. Everyday gossip is strategically used to shape receiver’s behavior towards targets – positively and negatively – and elicits less costly strategies when target retaliation is riskier. Kim Peters then shows gossip does not have to be reliable to increase cooperation. Lab data reveal that while gossip frequently contains lies, this does not harm trust and lies can even serve to enhance welfare. Francesca Giardini will connect all talks, based on which we propose gossip could function to effectively respond to norm violations and support reputation-based reciprocity.

Krakow, Poland
Terence Daniel Dores Cruz
PhD Candidate

I am broadly interested in human cooperation. Currently, I study gossip’s role in cooperation with regards to reasons for gossip and reactions to gossip.