Last week’s podcast, “Everybody Gossips (and That’s a Good Thing),” was all about the functions of gossip — good and bad. A new study (abstract; PDF) by Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, and Michael Schultz looks at how gossip influences group cooperation. The researchers played a game with 216 participants, with groups investing in public goods. Participants were allowed to gossip in between rounds and exclude a participant from future rounds, if they chose. They found, as Nicholas DiFonzo said on our podcast, that gossip is great for policing and reforming selfish free riders. From The Telegraph:
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Dr Matthew Feinberg, a researcher at Stanford University in the United State who co-wrote the study, said: “Groups that allow their members to gossip sustain co-operation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t.
“And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracize untrustworthy members.”
The researchers found that when people learn about the behavior of others through gossip, they use the information to ally themselves with those deemed co-operative.
I just listened to the podcast on gossip and as it happens my class on the early American republic will be reading the following article on political gossip for next week:
Joanne B. Freeman, “Slander, Poison, Whispers, and Fame: Jefferson’s ‘Anas’ and Political Gossip in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic, 15 (1995), 25-57.
Have you heard of it? Freeman shows that not only were the founders inveterate gossips but that gossip was crucial to the formation of political parties as like-minded founders, such as Jefferson and Madison, attempted to marshal support to protect themselves and the country from their enemies, such as Hamilton.
What fun it would have been to include this in our episode! Its thesis strengthens the point made in the podcast by Nick Denton of Gawker: Read More »