Gossip and competitive altruism support cooperation in a Public Good game

Francesca Giardini*, Daniele Vilone, Angel Sánchez, Alberto Antonioni

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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When there is an opportunity to gain a positive reputation, individuals are more willing to sacrifice their immediate self-interest. Partner choice creates opportunities for competitive altruism, i.e. individuals compete to be regarded as more generous and to be chosen for future partnerships. Tests of the competitive altruism hypothesis have focused so far on reputation based on direct observation, whereas the role of gossip has not been theoretically and empirically addressed. Partner choice can create an incentive to cooperate and to send truthful messages, but it can also work in the opposite direction. In order to understand the consequences of partner choice on cooperation and gossip, we designed an experimental study in which participants played a sequence of Public Goods games and gossip rounds. In our two treatments, we observed that cooperation increased when there was an opportunity to be selected, but also that cooperators sent more honest messages than defectors, and that this strategy was prevalent in the treatment in which inter-group competition was implemented. We also found evidence that participants detached themselves from the information more often when lying. Taken together, our study fills a theoretical and empirical gap by showing that partner choice increases both cooperation and honesty of gossip. This article is part of the theme issue 'The language of cooperation: reputation and honest signalling'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200303
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1838
Publication statusPublished - 22-Nov-2021


  • competitive altruism
  • cooperation
  • gossip
  • honesty
  • reputation

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