Gossip about Coronavirus: Infection status and norm adherence shape social responses

Terence D. Dores Cruz*, Romy van der Lee, Bianca Beersma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


To stop the spread of the Coronavirus, people must avoid infection risk. Given widespread skepticism regarding information concerning the Coronavirus received from authorities, one potentially important pathway to estimate the infectiousness of one’s group members could be through gossip (i.e., information about an absent target). Infection risk is reflected by both infection status and adherence to social distancing norms. In hypothetical scenarios (N = 837), participants received gossip that we manipulated to describe a group member’s infection status and/or norm adherence. Results showed people tended to believe gossip and that gossip influenced behavioral intentions to avoid and punish targets of gossip as well as the perception of targets. We conclude that gossip, while potentially unreliable, could affect how people treat group members. We discuss how gossip could alleviate the Coronavirus crisis by contributing to slowing the Coronavirus’s spread, as well as exacerbate it through increased social exclusion based on unverified information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-679
Number of pages22
JournalGroup Processes and Intergroup Relations
Issue number4
Early online date31 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: All authors acknowledge funding from an ERC Consolidator Grant (#771391) awarded to Bianca Beersma. Terence D. Dores Cruz additionally gratefully acknowledges funding from the Graduate School of Social Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2021.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • behavioral immune system
  • behavioral intentions
  • Coronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • gossip
  • infection
  • norm violation
  • person perception
  • risk
  • social distancing


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