A Scientific Explanation For Republican Success

October 17th, 2007at 08:08pm Posted by Eli

Drew Westen was right!

People are influenced by gossip about others, even when it contradicts what they see with their own eyes, suggests a new study.


In the study, 126 undergraduate biology students played a computer-based game in which each student was paired up with another student (via their computers) and had to decide whether to give a certain amount of their starting money to the partner. By dishing out 1.25 Euros, the receiver got 2 Euros, so being on the receiving end was a must. The assumption was that in later rounds, your generosity would be rewarded with generosity toward you.

Over a series of rounds, students switched their partners and received that partner’s track record – how many times the person had given money and not given money. Students were more likely to give money to cooperative partners who had previously given money to others.

Then, they had to write a snippet of gossip about the other players they had virtually-interacted with. Sommerfeld noted some gossip examples: “He’s a generous player” or “He’s a Scrooge, watch out.”

No surprise: Players who read a positive comment about another individual, having no knowledge of that person’s past generosity record, were more likely to hand over cash to that individual. The opposite was true for negative gossip, where players held tight to their money.

In another set of rounds, it got more interesting: Players received information on each partner’s track record (how often they said “yes” and “no” to doling out money) as well as the gossip blurb.

Without any added gossip information, students cooperated 62 percent of the time. That number increased to 75 percent when students had positive gossip in addition to the partner’s track record. Even in instances where the partner had a track record of no giving, positive gossip won out and the other individual handed over money to their partner.

The weirder outcome is that negative gossip decreased cooperation to just 50 percent, regardless of the players’ track records.


Gossip also showed this persuasive power in light of any information marring the reputation of the actual gossip monger. For instance, participants acted on gossip even when a blurb (also considered gossip) described the actual source as a “nasty miser” or other uncooperative description.

So… not only is an emotional narrative more important than actual fact, but it doesn’t even matter if everyone knows that the person spinning the narrative is a complete asshole.

My considered scientific opinion is that we’re all screwed.

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Bush,Media,Politics,Republicans,Science

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