EVILTONGUE: No Sword Bites So Fiercly as an Evil Tongue? Gossip Wrecks Reputation, but Enhances Cooperation
Social norms in general and norms of cooperation in particular, are the cement of social order in all human societies. The maintenance and enforcement of social norms and of cooperation, however, is not easy as there are tempting individual incentives for norm violations and free riding on the effort of others. In order to manage norms and cooperation, humans have developed institutional as well as informal solutions.
Reputation mechanisms and informal communication about others behind their back (gossip) are certainly among the most important informal management tools. This is puzzling, because according to common wisdom, gossip channels mainly negative and often fictitious information. If it is the case: how can gossip legitimize social order and promote cooperation?
We tackle this puzzle in this project exploiting a wide set of instruments in various environments. We use analytical modeling and agent-based simulation to derive hypotheses and test the consistency of the connection between micro mechanisms and group level outcomes. We test simple hypotheses in small group experiments. We use cutting-edge methodological tools to appropriately analyze the triadic nature of gossip embedded in network flows of information. We utilize dynamic network datasets from primary and secondary school classes, and we gather qualitative and quantitative information from organizations to test conditional hypotheses about the role that gossip plays in reputation and cooperation in different developmental and social contexts of life.
In addition, we apply new communication technologies to explore the hidden world of gossip and the dynamics of reputation in university dormitories. We build and explore a large corpus of spontaneous informal speech for its content in relation to gossip, reputational structure, norms, and cooperation. With the insights gained, we overcome common stereotypes about gossip and highlight how gossip is related to credible reputational signals, cooperation, and social order.
Expected results will help us to outline the conditions that can promote cooperation, and they will help to construct successful prevention strategies for social exclusion and for other potentially harmful consequences of the evil tongue.