Line of men sitting and talking in front of wall.

Social norms in general, and norms of cooperation in particular, are the cement of all human societies. For the difficult problems of the maintenance and enforcement of social norms and of cooperation, humans have developed surprisingly complex solutions. Reputation mechanisms and gossip are certainly among the compound informal solutions.




According to common wisdom, gossip channels mainly negative and often fictitious information. If it is the case: how can dishonest gossip and the resulting biased reputations legitimize social order and promote cooperation?

This is the main puzzle we tackle in this project exploiting a wide set of instruments. We use analytical modeling and agent-based simulation to derive hypotheses. We test simple hypotheses in small group experiments. We develop new 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 currently under development to explore the hidden world of gossip and the dynamics of reputation in dormitories and organizations.

With the insights gained, we can 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 in work groups, and they will help to construct successful prevention strategies for social exclusion and for other potentially harmful consequences of the evil tongue.

Project Acronym: EVILTONGUE
Proposal number: 648693
Proposal Title: No Sword Bites So Fiercely as an Evil Tongue? Gossip Wrecks Reputation, but Enhances Cooperation
Principal Investigator: Károly Takács

More information:

Old research group website in Hungary 

Earlier events:

Funded by:

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 648693).

Logotypes for EU and ERC.


Key Publications

Pancotto, F., Righi, S., and Takács, K. 2023. Voluntary play increases cooperation in the presence of punishment: A lab in the field experiment. Theory and Decision. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11238-023-09929-9

Takács, K. 2022. A Reputation-Centered Theory of Human Cooperation and Social Organization. Sociologica, 16(2): 11-51. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.1971-8853/14196

Pápay, B.T., Kubik, B.Gy., Galántai, J., and Takács, K. 2022. Gossip is distinct from other topics in spontaneous conversation. Intersections, 8(4): 149-178. https://doi.org/10.17356/ieejsp.v8i4.939

Számadó, Sz., Samu, F., and Takács, K. 2022. Condition-dependent trade-offs maintain honest signalling. Royal Society Open Science, 9(10): 220335. https://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.220335

Estévez, J.L. and Takács, K. 2022. Brokering or Sitting Between Two Chairs? A Group Perspective on Workplace Gossip. Frontiers in Psychology, 13: 815383. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.815383

Righi, S. and Takács, K. 2022. Gossip: Perspective Taking to Establish Cooperation. Dynamic Games and Applications, 12: 1086-1100. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13235-022-00440-4

Estévez, J.L., Kisfalusi, D., and Takács, K. 2022. More than One’s Negative Ties: The Role of Friends’ Antipathies in High School Gossip. Social Networks, 70: 77-89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2021.11.009

Giardini, F., Balliet, D., Power, E.A., Számadó, Sz., and Takács, K. 2022. Four Puzzles of Reputation-Based Cooperation: Content, Process, Honesty, and Structure. Human Nature, 33: 43-61. https://doi:10.1007/s12110-021-09419-3

Samu, F., Számadó, Sz., and Takács, K. 2020. Scarce and directly beneficial reputations support cooperation. Scientific Reports, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-68123-x

Stadtfeld, C., Takács, K., and Vörös, A. 2020. The Emergence and Stability of Groups in Social Networks. Social Networks, 60: 129-145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2019.10.008.

Kisfalusi, D.; Takács, K., and Pál, J. 2019. Gossip and Reputation in Adolescent Networks. In: Giardini, F. and Wittek, R.P.M. (eds.): Oxford Handbook on Gossip and Reputation, Oxford University Press, 359-379. https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-gossip-and-reputation-9780190494087?cc=us&lang=en&# 

Gastner, M.T., Takács, K., Gulyás, M., Szvetelszky Zs., and Oborny, B. 2019. The Impact of Hypocrisy on Opinion Formation: A Dynamic Model. PLOS One, 14 (6), e0218729. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0218729

Righi, S. and Takács, K. 2018. Social Closure and the Evolution of Cooperation via Indirect Reciprocity. Scientific Reports, 8(1):11149. https://rdcu.be/3qSv doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-29290-0.

Participating researchers

Robert Krause

Srebrenka Letina

José Luis Estévez

Flóra Samu

Dorottya Kisfalusi

Eszter Vit

Júlia Galántai