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:
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.