Selfish and Prosocial Motives for Gossip


On the one hand, experimental studies indicate gossip, communicating about an absent other, stems from other-regarding (i.e., prosocial) motives and that gossip promotes cooperation. On the other hand, observational and cross-sectional studies indicate gossip stems from self-serving (i.e., proself) motives and that gossip is detrimental for employees. It is essential to combine these lines of research to further our understanding of gossip. To examine both proself and prosocial motives to gossip, we conducted an experimental scenario study (N = 360) in which participants imagined observing the first mover in a sequential weak prisoners dilemma game making a decision and having the opportunity to communicate about this to the second mover. We manipulated outcome dependency by informing participants either that their outcomes would be equal to the first mover’s outcomes in the dilemma game, or, in contrast, equal to the second mover’s outcomes (between-subjects factor). We also manipulated first mover decisions (cooperative versus defective; within-subjects factor). We assessed whether participants sent gossip, whether gossip content was truthful or false, and their motives to gossip. Results showed that participants more often gossiped falsely when their outcomes were linked to the first rather than to the second mover, and when the first mover defected than when they cooperated. However, we found no interaction effect between outcome dependency and first mover decision, and the results for gossip motives were inconclusive. Our results provide a preliminary indication that different outcomes for gossipers can lead to proself gossip, yet understanding the underlying motives requires additional research.

Wageningen, 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.