Gossip and reputation in everyday life

Terence D. Dores Cruz, Isabel Thielmann, Simon Columbus, Catherine Molho, Junhui Wu, Francesca Righetti, Reinout E. De Vries, Antonis Koutsoumpis, Paul A.M. Van Lange, Bianca Beersma, Daniel Balliet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Gossip - a sender communicating to a receiver about an absent third party - is hypothesized to impact reputation formation, partner selection, and cooperation. Laboratory experiments have found that people gossip about others' cooperativeness and that they use gossip to condition their cooperation. Here, we move beyond the laboratory and test several predictions from theories of indirect reciprocity and reputation-based partner selection about the content of everyday gossip and how people use it to update the reputation of others in their social network. In a Dutch community sample (N = 309), we sampled daily events in which people either sent or received gossip about a target over 10 days (n gossip = 5284). Gossip senders frequently shared information about targets' cooperativeness and did so in ways that minimize potential retaliation from targets. Receivers overwhelmingly believed gossip to be true and updated their evaluation of targets based on gossip. In turn, a positive shift in the evaluation of a target was associated with higher intentions to help them in future interactions, and with lower intentions to avoid them in the future. Thus, gossip is used in daily life to impact and update reputations in a way that enables partner selection and indirect reciprocity. This article is part of the theme issue 'The language of cooperation: reputation and honest signalling'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200301
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1838
Early online date4 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 635356 awarded to D.B. and grant agreement no. 771391 awarded to B.B.)

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors.


  • cooperation
  • experience sampling
  • gossip
  • indirect reciprocity
  • partner selection
  • reputation


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