Gossip Theory

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Gossiping about complex systems: a network model of gossip assessment

By The Santa Fe Gossip Group

Gossip—talking about third parties behind their back—is a uniquely human trait, one not found in any other species. We humans also spend a significant amount of our lives gossiping, with roughly one to two thirds of our conversation time focusing on gossip. While gossip can have positive functions (enabling listeners to keep track of others without first-hand observation) gossip is also problematic since it is susceptible to corruption. A key theoretical question is therefore how individuals can sort true from false gossip, using the true gossip to accurately reconstruct the going-ons within their community. Here we present a simulation model in which gossip propagates through a network of agents, some of whom distort information by propagating bogus gossip. We investigate the fitness of different decision-making rules for assessing the veracity of gossip and we provide preliminary results for how well these rules perform under different societal starting conditions. In the vein of Axelrod’s computer tournament on cooperation and Laland’s computer tournament on social learning we propose to undertake a computer tournament on gossip assessment. We hope you will submit a program. And may best gossiper win!