Human Nature

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 278–292 | Cite as

Utilities of gossip across organizational levels

Multilevel selection, free-riders, and teams
  • Kevin M. KniffinEmail author
  • David Sloan Wilson


Gossip is a subject that has been studied by researchers from an array of disciplines with various foci and methods. We measured the content of language use by members of a competitive sports team across 18 months, integrating qualitative ethnographic methods with quantitative sampling and analysis. We hypothesized that the use of gossip will vary significantly depending on whether it is used for self-serving or group-serving purposes. Our results support a model of gossip derived from multilevel selection theory that expects gossip to serve group-beneficial rules when rewards are partitioned at the group level on a scale that permits mutual monitoring. We integrate our case study with earlier studies of gossip conducted by anthropologists, psychologists, and management researchers.

Key words

Gossip Multilevel selection theory Organizational behavior Organizational levels Social control 


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Copyright information

© Transaction Publishers 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State University of New YorkBinghamton
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadison

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