Whispering Down the Lane: The Economics of Vicarious Information Transfer

Publication Date: Tuesday 1 August 2006
Author(s): De Backer, C.J.S. & Gurven, M.
Appeared in: International Society for Adaptive Behavior, vol.: 14, issue: 3, 249-264


This article presents a model of the use of communication about personal experience or experiences of third parties (gossip) in the context of cooperation.To date, previous research on the effect of gossip on cooperation has focused primarily on the manipulation of reputations. Wepresent a formal model of vicarious information transfer, as a social learning strategy, between (potential) cooperative and competitive group members. We build on theories that have shown how effective communication can solve the adaptive problem of the high costs of individual learning. By communicating about the strat-egies of others, individuals can vicariously learn atfaster rates and lower cost. The costs and benefits of social versus individual learning have been modeled extensively. In this article, we focus on the unexplored and more basic question of when an individual should initiate the sharing of vicarious infor-mation that can potentially affect the fitness of a cooperative or competitive receiver.

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