The signal-burying game can explain why we obscure positive traits and good deeds Journal Article


Author(s): Hoffman, Moshe; Hilbe, Christian; Nowak, Martin A
Article Title: The signal-burying game can explain why we obscure positive traits and good deeds
Affiliation IST Austria
Abstract: People sometimes make their admirable deeds and accomplishments hard to spot, such as by giving anonymously or avoiding bragging. Such ‘buried’ signals are hard to reconcile with standard models of signalling or indirect reciprocity, which motivate costly pro-social behaviour by reputational gains. To explain these phenomena, we design a simple game theory model, which we call the signal-burying game. This game has the feature that senders can bury their signal by deliberately reducing the probability of the signal being observed. If the signal is observed, however, it is identified as having been buried. We show under which conditions buried signals can be maintained, using static equilibrium concepts and calculations of the evolutionary dynamics. We apply our analysis to shed light on a number of otherwise puzzling social phenomena, including modesty, anonymous donations, subtlety in art and fashion, and overeagerness.
Journal Title: Nature Human Behaviour
Volume: 2
ISSN: 23973374
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group  
Date Published: 2018-05-28
Start Page: 397
End Page: 404
DOI: 10.1038/s41562-018-0354-z
Notes: This work was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and by the Office of Naval Research Grant N00014-16-1-2914 (M.A.N.). C.H. acknowledges generous support from the ISTFELLOW programme and by the Schrödinger scholarship of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) J3475.
Open access: no
IST Austria Authors
  1. Christian Hilbe
    12 Hilbe
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