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No Sword Bites So Fiercly as an Evil Tongue? Gossip Wrecks Reputation, but Enhances Cooperation

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EVILTONGUE (No Sword Bites So Fiercly as an Evil Tongue?Gossip Wrecks Reputation, but Enhances Cooperation)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2020-05-31

Social norms in general and norms of cooperation in particular, are the cement of social order in all human societies. The maintenance and enforcement of social norms and of cooperation, however, is not easy as there are tempting individual incentives for norm violations and free riding on the effort of others. In order to manage norms and cooperation, humans have developed institutional as well as informal solutions. Reputation mechanisms and informal communication about others behind their back (gossip) are certainly among the most important informal management tools.
This is puzzling, because according to common wisdom, gossip channels mainly negative and often fictitious information. If it is the case: how can gossip legitimize social order and promote cooperation?
We tackle this puzzle in this project exploiting a wide set of instruments in various environments. We use analytical modeling and agent-based simulation to derive hypotheses and test the consistency of the connection between micro mechanisms and group level outcomes. We test simple hypotheses in small group experiments. We develop new methodological tools to appropriately analyze the triadic nature of gossip embedded in network flows of information. We utilize dynamic network datasets from primary and secondary school classes, and we gather qualitative and quantitative information from organizations to test conditional hypotheses about the role that gossip plays in reputation and cooperation in different developmental and social contexts of life. In addition, we apply new communication technologies to explore the hidden world of gossip and the dynamics of reputation in university dormitories. We build and explore a large corpus of spontaneous informal speech for its content in relation to gossip, reputational structure, norms, and cooperation.
With the insights gained, we overcome common stereotypes about gossip and highlight how gossip is related to credible reputational signals, cooperation, and social order. Expected results will help us to outline the conditions that can promote cooperation, and they will help to construct successful prevention strategies for social exclusion and for other potentially harmful consequences of the evil tongue.
Achievements so far have been published in international journals, have been presented at international general and specific academic conferences, and have also appeared in the general press. The achievements of the projects have been presented to leading academic experts in the field in workshop in May 2018 we organized on Gossip, Reputation, and Honesty in Budapest. We have performed theoretical and empirical work for the investigation of our main research questions following the working plan in seven subprojects.
1. We have started to develop new theoretical foundations for the scientific study of gossip and reputation based on signaling theory, on the theory of indirect reciprocity, on the social embeddedness of interactions, and their relations to social order and cooperation. Using and developing biological signaling theory, the conditions for honest communication have been investigated theoretically (Számadó, 2017, BMC Evolutionary Biology; Számadó et al., 2018, BiorXiv, and partly Garay et al., 2018, PLOS One; Számadó and Penn, 2018, Animal Behaviour). Desk research activities included literature review in the form of weekly reading groups.
2. Besides theory development, we have designed, built, and analyzed agent-based simulation models in order to investigate the relationship between informal communication about third parties and cooperation using models of indirect reciprocity. We have developed and analyzed different indirect reciprocity norms and shown how the establishment of cooperation becomes fragile when dishonesty is introduced. The study found that in general, deception undermines the stability of cooperation established by indirect reciprocity and reputation mechanisms. Righi and Takács (2017, ECMS Proceedings) have differentiated indirect reciprocity strategies based on whether they use local or global reputation information. The study found that indirect reciprocity strategies built on local reputation information are more successful and better able to proliferate in the population. In an application relevant to economics, Righi and Biondi (2017, Journal of Economic Interaction and Coordination) investigated the impact of disclosure, spread of information, and rumors on security market prices over time in an agent-based model.
3. We designed and run the first series of experiments that involved controlled forms of gossip and investigated its impact on cooperation using the classical two-person Prisoner’s Dilemma game. In parallel with previous studies, we have found that simply the possibility of exchanging information has already increased the level of cooperation. Furthermore, reputational scores that have been translated into monetary rewards were able to strengthen this effect. Reputational information influenced cooperative behaviour, regardless of previous decisions of the target of information (Samu, Számadó, and Takács, in prep.). We designed and run a second laboratory experiment to test simple hypotheses about costly signaling and efficient coordination.
4. We started to conceptualize the ways how triadic network data, such as gossip, could be analyzed statistically in self-reported surveys about a certain period and in time-stamped relational event data. We organized an international workshop and course for our project members in the fall of 2017 on relational event models and developed collaborations with experts developing statistical software for this purpose.
5. We have written a review chapter on gossip and reputation in the school context for the Handbook of Gossip and Reputation (Kisfalusi, Pál, and Takács, forthcoming at Oxford University Press). We have utilized network panel data collected earlier by our research group in primary and secondary school classes on gossip and reputation. Beyond confirming the association between gossip and reputational status in primary schools, Kisfalusi and Takács (2018, Szociológiai Szemle / Hungarian Sociological Review) analyzed the co-evolution of reputational status and self-reported gossip nominations using stochastic actor-based models. Findings indicate that if a student gossips about a classmate, he or she will also disdain this classmate over time. It is also found that looking down on somebody increases the chance of sending negative gossip about the person. We found that reputational concerns play a strong role in the establishment of informal social order in the well-bounded communities of secondary school classrooms. Pál, Stadtfeld, Grow, and Takács (2016, Journal of Research on Adolescence) found that the discrepancy between direct status attributions (whom do individuals look up to) and the perceived status hierarchy plays a prominent role in the development of disliking and hate. Grow, Pál, and Takács (2016, Social Psychology Quarterly) in secondary schools and Kisfalusi, Janky, and Takács (submitted) in primary schools found that informal communication in social networks is responsible for the ability perceptions of third-party individuals and these ability perceptions are easily generalized to gender and ethnic groups. Further studies about the relationships between gossip, reputation, and different dependent variables such as popularity (Boldvai-Pethes, submitted), opinion brokerage (Bodor-Eranus and Pethes), group dynamics (Stadtfeld, Vörös, and Takács, submitted), norms of academic achievement (Radó, Habsz, Kisfalusi, and Takács) and well-being in school (Samu, Kisfalusi, and Takács) are in preparation.
6. We gathered information on gossip and reputations in organizations. We have approached several business and governmental organizations and have conducted surveys in six of them so far. Our analyses of the data acquired show the importance of wage perceptions on gossip and reputation (Pápay and Takács, in prep.); and the importance of opinion brokerage for spreading and disseminating informal evaluation of others (Slišković, Takács, Pápay, and Lučić, in prep.).
7. Self-reports and even ethnographic observations might largely be biased because of the confidentiality inherent in gossip. We therefore make a pioneering use of wearable devices (smartwatches) for gathering reliable information on social interactions. As planned, we have prepared and submitted a detailed description of the project to the Hungarian National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information for an ethical audit. The documents on data gathering, data management, ethics, and measures of data protection have been screened by the audit. Based on the recommendations received, the rules have been adjusted subsequently. In line with the original plans, we have designed the functional requirements for a new smartwatch based application tool. The aim of the new smartwatch application is to record conversations between participants when they are in close proximity with each other. In addition, we have also developed a small survey application for Android Wear in order to run short daily routine surveys among the participants. The development of software by a professional developer took longer than expected and was not without bugs and problems. We have purchased the wearable devices following public procurement rules. We have established a secure server connection for the storage and handling of the large amount of audio data. As expected, after a failed attempt we have gained access to a dormitory floor that has been the primary field of our study. We conducted the first pilot experiment in March 2018. The second experiment is scheduled for June 2018.
While the audio recordings from the smartwatch based study are often incomprehensible due to background noise, parallel speech, or the covering of the device by long sleeves, we have acquired a uniquely large audio recording of spontaneous conversations (550 hours of speech) in a closed small group recorded in high quality audio format with personal microports. We use this data set for the same research purposes. We have transcribed and annotated 550 hours of spontaneous conversations, and established a uniquely large corpus of this kind (Galántai, Pápay, Szabó, Kubik, and Takács, 2018, Magyar Tudomány / Hungarian Science). Annotations included the background presence of other participants, non-linguistic elements in speech, and perceptions of gossip. We have started a quantitative and qualitative analyses of this corpus. We run topic models that clearly identified gossip and storytelling topics that strongly overlapped with gossip annotations (Pápay, Galántai, and Kubik, 2018, Proceedings of Text2Story Workshop). Furthermore, gossip segments contained fewer speakers and less non-verbal annotations (less laughter and crying in particular).
We started to develop models that are able to explain why and under which conditions honest gossip is viable; how and under which structural conditions it enhances cooperation and contributes to the maintenance of social order. In this endeavor, we combined and built on insights gained in various disciplines.
Our model results have demonstrated that the ideal world in which self-emerging reputation systems solve the problem of large-scale cooperation is illusionary. The possibility of deception makes the evolution of cooperation via indirect reciprocity and reputation mechanisms extremely fragile. In line with previous literature, we have also shown that direct reciprocity is able to overcome the problem of cooperation, but this solution is problematic due to the unrealistic assumption of complete information on every potential interaction partner in a large scale society. Hence, we have pursued the investigation of indirect reciprocity based reputation mechanisms further. We found that strategies that utilize local rather than global reputational information are more successful and able to establish large scale cooperation (Righi and Takács, 2017, ECMS Proceedings).
Our school and organizational studies have demonstrated that gossip and reputation systems are not independent of the goals individuals strive for in the specific context. A discrepancy between the informal status order and direct personal status attribution to other peers is particularly important for the emergence and maintenance of disliking ties (Pál, Stadtfeld, Grow, and Takács, 2016, Journal of Research on Adolescence) and gossip (Kisfalusi, Pál, and Takács, forthcoming in Handbook of Gossip and Reputation). Reputational status concerns are often generalized to other members of the group of the target via social network mechanisms (Grow, Pál, and Takács, 2016, Social Psychology Quarterly; Kisfalusi, Janky, and Takács, submitted). In the organizational context, wage perceptions seem to be crucial determinants of spreading unfavorable evaluations (Pápay and Takács, in prep.).
In order to record and analyze the factual patterns of gossip and their relation to reputation and cooperation, we make an innovative use of smartwatches for social science research. This innovative use of cutting edge technologies makes it possible to explore the world of social conversations in a more precise and objective way than it has ever been done before. We have invested in the development of a Bluetooth distance-based smartwatch application that makes recordings between informed and consented participants. Our technological innovation for the study of social interactions is likely to have a wide impact on social science research methodology. Our study is likely to establish standards of ethical guidelines, data use, and analysis. Our technological developments will provide access for other researchers to research questions they could not address before due to measurement problems. In short, the perspectives we open up will truly fertilize social science research in similar as well as other domains.