Making sense of information in noisy networks: Human communication, gossip, and distortion

Mark E. Laidre, Alex Lamb, Susanne Shultz, Megan Olsen

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Information from others can be unreliable. Humans nevertheless act on such information, including gossip, to make various social calculations, thus raising the question of whether individuals can sort through social information to identify what is, in fact, true. Inspired by empirical literature on people's decision-making when considering gossip, we built an agent-based simulation model to examine how well simple decision rules could make sense of information as it propagated through a network. Our simulations revealed that a minimalistic decision-rule 'Bit-wise mode' - which compared information from multiple sources and then sought a consensus majority for each component bit within the message - was consistently the most successful at converging upon the truth. This decision rule attained high relative fitness even in maximally noisy networks, composed entirely of nodes that distorted the message. The rule was also superior to other decision rules regardless of its frequency in the population. Simulations carried out with variable agent memory constraints, different numbers of observers who initiated information propagation, and a variety of network types suggested that the single most important factor in making sense of information was the number of independent sources that agents could consult. Broadly, our model suggests that despite the distortion information is subject to in the real world, it is nevertheless possible to make sense of it based on simple Darwinian computations that integrate multiple sources. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)152-160
    Number of pages8
    JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


    • Communication networks
    • Decision making
    • Evolution
    • Gossip signaling
    • Information transmission


    Dive into the research topics of 'Making sense of information in noisy networks: Human communication, gossip, and distortion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this