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'Gossip helps to glue society together' says study
Work by game theorists has shown that reputation is the reason that (unlike so many other creatures) humans help strangers and unrelated people.
Reputation is important for the evolution of human cooperation, through a process called "indirect reciprocity", summed up by 'I help you and somebody else helps me'.
A team of researchers in the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany wanted to find out how much gossip can be relied on as a good guide to reputation and how much it can be abused to destroy a reputation.
They found, in experimental games in which students could write comments about other people (a form of gossip) that the ability to tarnish others is diminished, the more gossip there is.
The games involved giving money to other players to test how players trusted each other to cooperate. Scientists then studied the effects of gossip on the reputation of potential receivers and the resulting donations.
People cooperated more often with cooperators than with defectors; people wrote more positive gossip about cooperators than about defectors; and people cooperated more with people about whom they read positive gossip than with people about whom they read negative gossip.
So positivity breeds positivity! That's nice to know. But does good gossip breed good gossip in your workplace or social group? Is gossip really good for us in the real world, or does it breed all kinds of problems and worries? Has gossip ever got you into trouble?
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