On November 1, 2016, Junhui Wu defended her PhD thesis entitled “Understanding Human Cooperation: The Psychology of Gossip, Reputation, and Life History” at VU University Amsterdam (promotor: Paul van Lange, co-promotor: Daniel Balliet). She received a cum laude for her dissertation. Congratulations!
This dissertation contributes to extant literature on effective solutions to cooperation problems. It focuses on two important factors: (a) gossip and reputation, (b) life history strategy that reflects variations in resource allocation decisions toward fitness-relevant activities.
Chapters 1 and 2 provide a general introduction and a systematic review of extant theories and research on the role of reputation in social interactions. Chapters 3 and 4 investigate when gossip (i.e., reputation transmission) can promote generosity and cooperation and the psychological mechanisms (i.e., reputational concern and expected indirect benefits) underlying this phenomenon. I focus on two situational features: (a) perceived “shadow of the future” with potential gossip recipients, and (b) others’ social connections and gossip potential in one’s social network. Indeed, people are more generous toward someone who (a) can gossip to their future partner or (b) is more socially connected and can gossip to more people. Moreover, the gossip-based generosity effect is mainly driven by one’s reputational concern, rather than expected benefits from future partners. This implies that people may not rationally calculate potential benefits from a specific interaction or base their decision on these benefits. Chapter 5 reveals that gossip is relatively more effective and efficient than punishment to promote and maintain cooperation when gossip involves no cost and punishment is moderately costly. Chapter 6 provides some initial evidence on whether life history (LH) strategy relates to cooperation. Overall, there is no support for the prediction that a slower LH strategy relates to more cooperation or that childhood environments interact with current resource scarcity to predict cooperation. However, people following slower LH strategies show stronger concern for reputation, prosocial orientation, and trust in others. Chapter 7 summarizes the key findings, and outlines the broader implications and avenues for future research.
To conclude, this dissertation advances our understanding of human cooperation by providing converging evidence on the effects of gossip, reputation, and life history parameters. It stresses the importance of reputation monitoring and spreading in groups and social networks to promote trust and cooperation in society at large.