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Prof. Smaldino Finds Evidence for Mathematical Theory of Sneaky Signals

March 4, 2022

Much of online conversation today consists of signaling one’s political identity. When communicating in mixed groups, do people use "covert" signals that are recognizable by their own political in-group but easy for outsiders to miss?

Cognitive and Information Sciences Associate Professor Paul Smaldino answered this question in a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Smaldino developed a mathematical theory of covert signaling and, working with a team of collaborators, confirmed the model's predictions using a large sample of tweets. They found that covert political signaling is more common when the perceived audience is politically diverse. This opens the door to a better understanding of communication in politically polarized societies. Read more