Honesty and dishonesty in gossip strategies: A fitness interdependence analysis

Junhui Wu*, Szabolcs Számadó, Pat Barclay, Bianca Beersma, Terence D. Dores Cruz, Sergio Lo Iacono, Annika S. Nieper, Kim Peters, Wojtek Przepiorka, Leo Tiokhin, Paul A.M. Van Lange

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

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Gossip, or sharing information about absent others, has been identified as an effective solution to free rider problems in situations with conflicting interests. Yet, the information transmitted via gossip can be biased, because gossipers may send dishonest information about others for personal gains. Such dishonest gossip makes reputation-based cooperation more difficult to evolve. But when are people likely to share honest or dishonest gossip? We build formal models to provide the theoretical foundation for individuals' gossip strategies, taking into account the gossiper's fitness interdependence with the receiver and the target. Our models across four different games suggest a very simple rule: when there is a perfect match (mismatch) between fitness interdependence and the effect of honest gossip, the gossiper should always be honest (dishonest); however, in the case of a partial match, the gossiper should make a choice based on their fitness interdependence with the receiver and the target and the marginal cost/benefit in terms of pay-off differences caused by possible choices of the receiver and the target in the game. Moreover, gossipers can use this simple rule to make optimal decisions even under noise. We discuss empirical examples that support the predictions of our model and potential extensions. This article is part of the theme issue 'The language of cooperation: reputation and honest signalling'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200300
Pages (from-to)1-9
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 research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant no. 71901028), the Hungarian National Research, Development and Innovation Office NKFIH (OTKA grant no. K 132250), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC grant no. 430287) and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (VIDI grant no. 452-17-013). 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. 771391). Acknowledgements

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • cooperation
  • dishonest gossip
  • fitness interdependence
  • modelling approach
  • reputation


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