The Language of Cooperation: Reputation and Honest Signaling

2 - 6 September 2019

Venue: Lorentz Center@Oort

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Managing environmental resources, funding charities, governing organizational networks, organizing social movements are all examples of an age-old question: How can group members be motivated to cooperate despite the temptation of selfish actions?

Cooperation is of paramount importance for human and non-human societies, and in the last several decades the puzzle of cooperation has intrigued scientists across several disciplines. In a world of self-interested and unrelated individuals, helping someone with no guarantees of reciprocity can be a dangerous choice. However, there is ample evidence coming from different disciplines that reputation and honest signaling can promote cooperation across species, contexts and environments.

Reputation is an excellent candidate for supporting cooperation, first because it can be earned by cooperation, second because the possession of good reputation can lead to individual benefits, third because it is durable, adaptive and adjustable. However, our understanding of the role of reputation is still fragmented, and there are several aspects that need further attention: the role of the social context, the role of the structure of interactions and communication in the given context, interaction between the reliability of communication and the effectiveness of coordination of cooperation, and finally its sustainability over time and under changing circumstances. Also, with the threats and opportunities linked to social media and online news diffusion, the issues of reliability and trustworthiness of reputation and signals have become even more important.

To generate progress in understanding reputation and honest signaling for cooperation the workshop will address 5 key topics for future research.

Context dependency of reputation: How do people learn that their behavior affects their reputation and opportunities for indirect benefits in different kinds of social contexts, e.g., work, friendship or community relationships? How does prior reputation shape future reputation? How do attributes of the individuals being assessed, and of the individuals doing the assessing, shape the resulting reputational evaluations?

Structure of reputation-relevant communication: How does the network through which communication occurs influence the reputational evaluations of individuals? How does an individual’s position within (and knowledge of) that structure influence the decision to undertake any potentially reputation-altering behavior? How are the networks of communication and cooperation related to one another?

Reliability of communication and the coordination of cooperation: To what extent can we trust reputations? How does gossip, i.e., reputation transmission mediated by language, affect cooperation and its sustainability? How can we further specify indirect reciprocity theory in order to account for unreliable reputations and purposeful misinformation?

Confusion around ultimate and proximate mechanisms of indirect reciprocity and reputation and its methodological consequences: What is the difference between indirect reciprocity as an ultimate mechanism in the evolution of cooperation, and the proximate processes that underlie reputation-based cooperation in daily life? How to collect accurate and valid field data on reputation? How to design cross-methodological studies on the evolution of reputation-based cooperation?

The sustainability of reputations over time and under changing circumstances: How are reputation change and cooperation related? How can we study the dynamics of reputation, and how do they affect the sustainability of cooperation? How do micro-psychological mechanisms explain macro-emergent phenomena?

The aim of this workshop is to set up a collaborative framework through which scholars coming from different backgrounds can fruitfully compare theories, methods and perspectives in order to lay the foundations for an interdisciplinary and systematic research program on reputation and honesty for sustainable cooperation. Participants from disciplines as diverse as Anthropology, Biology, Computer Science, Economics, Physics, Psychology, and Sociology will discuss their projects, findings and views. The workshop will include invited speakers from diverse disciplines, opportunities for each participant to share their work, and ample time devoted to workgroup discussions around the themes mentioned above. We will discuss future opportunities for research collaboration, special issues, and grants. 


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