Preschoolers affect others' reputations through prosocial gossip

Br J Dev Psychol. 2016 Sep;34(3):447-60. doi: 10.1111/bjdp.12143. Epub 2016 Apr 29.


Providing evaluative information to others about absent third parties helps them to identify cooperators and avoid cheaters. Here, we show that 5-year-olds, but not 3-year-olds, reliably engage in such prosocial gossip. In an experimental setting, 5-year-old children spontaneously offered relevant reputational information to guide a peer towards a cooperative partner. Three-year-old children offered such evaluative information only rarely, although they still showed a willingness to inform in a non-evaluative manner. A follow-up study revealed that one component involved in this age difference is children's developing ability to provide justifications. The current results extend previous work on young children's tendency to manage their own reputation by showing that preschoolers also influence others' reputations via gossip.

Keywords: cooperation; gossip; negativity bias; reputation.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Perception*
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*