The Evolutionary Psychology of Information Management: Gossip, Secrecy, and Shame in Evolutionary Perspective

  • Jared Piazza

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis presents an evolutionary psychological approach to the study of human information management behavior, including gossip, secrecy, and the emotional processes guiding the communication and concealment of personal information. An evolutionary psychological perspective proposes that human cognition was shaped by natural selection to solve adaptive problems encountered recurrently by our human ancestors. It is argued that human language posed a source of adaptive challenges for which our human ancestors evolved a set of psychological mechanisms, including mechanisms for (a) promoting fitness-enhancing gossip about the self and (b) defending against fitness-damaging gossip.

    Several predictions follow from this theoretical perspective, which were empirically tested using various methods. First, it was established in two economic game studies that people regulate their economic behavior by increasing their altruistic output in response to information transmission threats. Second, it was tested and demonstrated that the content of people’s distressing personal secrets reduces to three evolutionarily- relevant domains: mating, health, and social exchange. An exploratory factor analysis, data reduction, and validity testing procedure were used. Next, it was tested via a pilot study that having a secretive personality—but not the act of secrecy per se—is linked to maladaptive social outcomes, such as relational victimization. Next, it was hypothesized and demonstrated in a series of studies that people who are sensitive to social rejection engage in more concealment than their non-sensitive counterparts. It was also tested how rejection sensitivity interacts with social context (perceived anonymity) to influence concealment behavior. Finally, the role of specific emotions in information management was examined. Specifically, one study established a relationship between shame and concealment, and guilt and self-disclosure, and a series of studies tested the hypothesis that shame uniquely motivates self-promotional behaviors aimed at overturning a damaged reputation. The thesis concludes with future directions derived from the evolutionary model.
    Date of AwardSept 2009
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Queen's University Belfast
    SupervisorJesse Bering (Supervisor)

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