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Research suggests that women gossip more often than men. We, along with previous researchers, argue that this exchange of information may be a means by which women compete for mates. That is, women use social information to besmirch the reputations and long-term mating potential of rivals. Because men value chastity in their long-term partners and this trait is invisible, women's sexual reputations may not only influence their long-term mate value, but may also be vulnerable to defamation. Furthermore, Hess and Hagen (2009) have argued that women may use their same-sex friendships to help them in this reputational competition. If women compete with one another using social information, their psychologies and friendship patterns should be shaped for this informational battle at three stages: defense, reconnaissance, and dissemination. Across four online studies we tested predictions stemming from this informational warfare framework. In Studies 1 and 2, we evaluated whether women's interests, worries, and friendship expectations are better suited than men's for reputational competition. In Studies 3 and 4, we experimentally manipulated the mating threat level of a target woman and found that women relayed reputationally relevant information about her strategically. Specifically, women passed on more negative and less positive social information about a hypothetical a woman who flirted with their mates (compared to one who did not) and an attractive woman (compared to a less attractive woman). That is, women hurt more than helped the reputations of other women who were more formidable mating competitors compared to less. Furthermore, highly competitive women were more informationally aggressive than less competitive women. These findings support the contention that women compete with one another using social information and reputational attacks.
Competition, Gossip, Reputations, Social Information, Women
Date of Defense
March 28, 2016.
A Thesis submitted to the Department of Psychology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science.
Includes bibliographical references.
Roy F. Baumeister, Professor Directing Thesis; Andrea Meltzer, Committee Member; Jesse Cougle, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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