Nasty and Noble Notes - How Interdependence Structure drives Prosocial and Proself Gossip


Gossip—a sender communicating to a receiver about an absent target—is a characteristic feature of human societies that can serve essential functions in our social lives. There are two contrasting streams of literature of what gossip entails and brings about. The first theoretical view can be termed a prosocial or social cohesion view of gossip. In this view, gossip is motivated to benefit others or the collective and functions to promote cooperation through reputation-based strategies such as indirect reciprocity and partner selection. The second theoretical view can be termed a proself or social competition view of gossip. In this view, gossip is motivated to benefit oneself and impose costs on others such as through manipulating reputations or using indirect aggression. While these theories are contrasting, they do not need to be mutually exclusive. To unify these different views, we argue the expression of motives to serve one’s own purposes versus collective purposes through gossip depends on the interdependence between involved parties. To examine both proself and prosocial motives to gossip, we conducted an experimental study under 378 Dutch students in which observers of a sequential prisoners dilemma could gossip about the first decider’s behavior to the second decider. We manipulated the interdependence structure by making the observers’ outcomes equal to the first decider, equal to the second decider, and random. Results show that when observers’ outcomes were interdependent with either receivers or targets of gossip report more selfish motives for gossip. Moreover, when interdependent with the target of gossip, they were more likely to gossip falsely by misrepresenting an uncooperative target as cooperative. In sum, the interdependence structure in which gossip occurs can shape gossip motives as both prosocial and proself, supporting both prosocial and proself views of gossip and supporting that these theoretical views are not mutually exclusive.

Tilburg, The Netherlands
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.