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The social significance of subtle signals

Bliege Bird, Rebecca, Ready, Elspeth and Power, Eleanor A. ORCID: 0000-0002-3064-2050 (2018) The social significance of subtle signals. Nature Human Behaviour, 2. 452 – 457. ISSN 2397-3374

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Identification Number: 10.1038/s41562-018-0298-3


Acts of prosociality, such as donating to charity, are often analyzed similarly as acts of conspicuous advertising; both involve costly signals revealing hidden qualities that increase the signaller's prestige. However, experimental work suggests that grand gestures, even if prosocial, may damage one's reputation for trustworthiness and cooperativeness if they are perceived as prestige-enhancing: individuals may gain some types of cooperative benefits only when they perform prosocial acts in particular ways. Here, we contrast subtle, less obviously costly, interpersonal forms of prosocial behaviour with high cost displays to a large audience, drawing on the example of food sharing in subsistence economies. This 31 contrast highlights how highly visible prosocial displays may be effective for attracting new partners, while subtle signals may be crucial for ensuring trust and commitment with long term partners. Subtle dyadic signals may be key to understanding the long-term maintenance of interpersonal networks that function to reduce unanticipated risks.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 Springer Nature
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2018 12:08
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:23

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