Miguel Fonseca | University of Exeter

The fact that gossip can be inaccurate, intentionally or otherwise, has led to questions over its ability to build cooperation in large societies. We explore the impact of gossip accuracy on trust in a behavioural setting. Participants (N=360) played repeated one-shot trust games in anonymous 12-person networks that varied in their transmission of accurate or inaccurate reputational information. Participants were indeed sensitive to gossip accuracy: greater inaccuracy led to lower trust and trustworthiness. Nevertheless, we observed greater trust and trustworthiness in conditions where inaccurate gossip was present than in our control where it was absent. These data suggest that even inaccurate gossip induces a degree of reputational concern in the targets of gossip and some willingness to discriminate among recipients of gossip. This suggests that gossip does not need to be perfectly accurate to be effective in inducing cooperation.

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