Gossip, Reputation, and Cooperation: Informal Building Blocks of Social Order

Funding: OTKA
Duration: September 9, 2014 - August 31, 2019 (59 months)

Taken for a malicious way of destroying relationships, gossips determine informal social hierarchies and may be even aggressive. Although gossip is a social construct, it is alive, stable, and right next to you. But gossip is communication, and a thoughtful gossip is handy. If gossip can ruin reputations, it can also foster collaboration. What causes gossip to be fruitful, how it can be viable, and under which conditions gossips convey honest information is the scope of the project “Theoretical background and problem formulation”, carried out by the researcher Számadó Szabolcs.

The project innovates by using the theory of costly signaling in biology to study the topic. It shows the conditions under which honest signaling is viable. Expanding on such idea, the project builds on theories that emphasize how manipulation and information spread through networks of individuals shape social and economic interactions—which holds true for gossip and reputation.

Szabolcs will formulate a new theory on gossip and reputation, and will provide statistical methods to analyze how gossips manifest. Aiming at that, he will develop game theoretical models and agent-based models to test how gossip is viable and helpful—and what is the relationship between honest and dishonest communication, reputations, and cooperation. Two laboratory experiments will test his assumptions, which will be complemented with data collected in primary and secondary schools through questionnaires. Similar qualitative research will be used in companies where reputation matters.

The models and theories developed throughout the research will be published at high ranking journals. They will also be the scope of conference presentations. Beyond contributing to fill a knowledge gap in the academia, the project’s outputs have a societal impact. Successful companies, students, or professionals depend not only on what they deliver. They also depend on how much trust their work inspire, or how much respect people pay for what they do.

Principal investigator (PI):

Szabolcs Számadó 
Senior Research Fellow 
Researcher profile page  

Contact the PI