How gossip shapes cooperation – Neuroscience News

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Resume: A new study examines how gossip influences cooperation and behavior. Researchers found that gossip helps maintain social order by spreading information about reputations, which encourages cooperative behavior.

Their mathematical model shows the amount of gossip needed to reach consensus and highlights the effects of biased information. These findings provide insight into the role of gossip in social dynamics and its potential applications.

Key Facts:

  1. Gossip promotes cooperation: Gossip helps maintain social order and encourages cooperative behavior.
  2. Mathematical model: The study presents a model showing how much gossip is needed for consensus.
  3. Impact of bias: Biased gossip can facilitate or hinder cooperation, depending on its nature.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Gossip often has a negative connotation, but imagine you are part of a group that decides to hire a job candidate or support a local political candidate. Candidates who build a good reputation by helping others are more likely to receive help in the form of a job offer or endorsement, a feedback loop known as indirect reciprocity. Gossip can facilitate cooperation.

Previous research has shown that people tend to cooperate more when they think their peers are gossiping about their behavior, gossip allows people to avoid potential cheaters, and gossip can punish followers. Yet little was understood about how much gossip is necessary to promote cooperation and how misinformation influences the effects of gossip.

Researchers from the School of Arts & Sciences’ Plotkin Research Group in Mathematical Biology studied this problem by creating a model that includes two sources of gossip: randomly selected people versus a single source.

They show that there is a mathematical relationship between these forms of gossip – meaning that understanding gossip with a single source also allows them to understand gossip with peers – and developed an analytical expression for the amount of gossip needed to to reach sufficient consensus and maintain cooperation.

Their findings have been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Research on the spread of social information and research on the evolution of cooperative behavior are very mature areas, but not much work has been done to combine them,” said first author Mari Kawakatsu, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab. from biology professor Joshua B. Plotkin, senior author of the paper.

“By merging ideas from the two fields, we were able to develop a mechanistic model of how information dissemination can aid cooperative behavior.”

Co-author Taylor A. Kessinger, also a postdoctoral researcher with a background in physics, says this analysis bridges the critical gap in previous work on no gossip, where everyone’s opinion is private and independent, and infinitely fast gossip with complete agreement on reputations.

Kessinger has also seen the central role that indirect reciprocity plays on X, formerly known as Twitter, and how disagreements over reputations and ingroup-outgroup dynamics can drive bad behavior.

“Systems of morality and reputation ensure that good actors are rewarded and bad actors are punished. That way, good behavior spreads and bad behavior doesn’t,” says Kessinger.

“When you punish a bad actor, you have to be sure that other people agree that he has committed misconduct. Otherwise, they might see you as the bad actor. Gossip can be a way to achieve this.”

Plotkin says that while previous work has taken the basic model of indirect reciprocity and added several complications, such as stereotyping, this article goes back and fills a gap in the theory.

The paper offers a quantitative model that explains how many rounds of gossip are enough for people to change their cooperative or non-cooperative behavior, he says.

The article is about a game-theoretic model where an interaction takes the form of a donation game, where each ‘donor’ chooses whether to cooperate with each ‘recipient’ by paying a cost to provide a benefit.

All individuals serve once each as donor and recipient. Then each of them privately assesses each donor’s reputation by rating their action towards a randomly selected participant, and a period of reputational gossip ensues.

Private judgments and gossip continue until reputations are balanced.

The authors note that behavioral strategies vary. Some are always cooperative, some are always defective, and some discriminate, meaning they are cooperative when the recipient has a good reputation and defective when the recipient has a bad reputation.

The researchers found that both forms of gossip tend to increase reputational agreement, which in turn improves the equilibrium reputation of discriminators.

So if the gossip goes on long enough, discriminators can eventually defeat the cooperators and defectors, which is a good outcome because discriminators cooperate very well with each other and are stable against uncooperative behavior.

The researchers further found that biased gossip, that is, the spread of false information, can facilitate or hinder cooperation depending on the extent of the gossip and whether the bias is positive or negative.

But as gossip becomes more susceptible to unbiased ‘noise’, the population must gossip longer to stabilize the balance.

Kawakatsu next wants to think about how information flow interacts with altruism. The article also notes that future research could explore how the number of gossip sources affects cooperation, the conditions that would cause a rift in the way an individual is viewed, and how prejudice might be differentially applied to in-group members and the out-group members.

Joshua B. Plotkin is the Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor of Natural Sciences in the Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mari Kawakatsu is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology at Penn Arts & Sciences and affiliated with the Penn Center for Mathematical Biology.

Taylor Kessinger is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology at Penn Arts & Sciences.

This research was supported by the James S. McDonnell Foundation (Postdoctoral Fellowship Award in Understanding Dynamic and Multi-scale Systems doi:10.37717/2021-3209) and the John Templeton Foundation (Grant #62281).

About this social neuroscience research news

Author: Erica Mozer
Source: University of Pennsylvania
Contact: Erica Moser – University of Pennsylvania
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Closed access.
“A Mechanistic Model of Gossip, Reputations, and Cooperation” by Mari Kawakatsu et al. PNAS


A mechanistic model of gossip, reputations and cooperation

Social reputations facilitate cooperation: those who help others build a good reputation are more likely to get help themselves.

But when people have personal opinions about each other, this cycle of indirect reciprocity breaks down, because disagreements lead to the perception of unjustified behavior that ultimately undermines cooperation.

Theoretical studies often assume population-wide consensus on reputations, positing fast gossip as an endogenous mechanism for reaching consensus.

However, the theory of indirect reciprocity lacks a mechanistic description of how gossip actually generates consensus.

Here we develop a mechanistic model of gossip-based indirect reciprocity that includes two alternative forms of gossip: exchanging information with randomly selected peers or consulting a single gossip source.

We show that these two forms of gossip are mathematically equivalent under an appropriate transformation of parameters. We derive an analytical expression for the minimum amount of gossip required to reach sufficient consensus and stabilize cooperation.

We analyze how the amount of gossip required for cooperation depends on the benefits and costs of cooperation, the assessment rule (social norm) and errors in reputation assessment, strategy implementation and gossip transmission.

Finally, we show that biased gossip can facilitate or hinder cooperation, depending on the direction and magnitude of the bias.

Our results contribute to the growing literature on collaboration facilitated by communication, and highlight the need to study strategic interactions in combination with the dissemination of social information.

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