Why people gossip?

Spread the love

 

Gossip. All humans partake in some form, despite the age-old adage, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Whether it’s workplace chatter, the sharing of family news, or group texts between friends, it’s inevitable that everyone who talks, well, talks about other people. In fact, a 1993 observational study found that male participants spent 55% of conversation time and female participants spent 67% conversation time on “the discussion of socially relevant topics.”

People tend to think of gossip as synonymous with malicious rumors, put-downs, or the breathless propagation of a tabloid scoop. But researchers often define it more broadly: as “talking about people who aren’t present,” says Megan Robbins, an assistant professor of psychology at The University of California, Riverside. “It’s something that comes very naturally to us” — an integral part of the conversation, information sharing, and even community building.

“It’s not necessarily negative,” adds David Ludden, professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College and the author of The Psychology of Language: An Integrated Approach. “It can be positive or neutral.”

In a 2019 meta-analysis published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, Robbins and a colleague found that of the 52 minutes a day on average the 467 subjects spent gossiping, three-quarters of that gossip was actually neutral. One subject, for example, spoke about someone who was watching a lot of movies to stay current. “It was kind of boring,” Robbins says, “not salacious and negative” at all.

Just a small portion of the conversations analyzed — around 15% — was deemed negative gossip (though positive gossip amounted to a smaller portion still, at only 9%). So while it is true that people can spend a significant amount of time talking about their peers, oftentimes that chatter is benign.

Why do people gossip?
Some researchers argue that gossip helped our ancestors survive. Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar first pioneered this idea, comparing gossip to the grooming primates engage in as a means of bonding. Instead of picking fleas and dirt off one another to bond, Ludden explains, we now talk, which is “where gossip comes in, because chit-chat is mostly talking about other people and conveying social information.”

Gossiping, Dunbar’s work argues, gives humans the ability to spread valuable information to very large social networks. “Were we not able to engage in discussions of these [social and personal] issues, we would not be able to sustain the kinds of societies that we do,” she explained in a 2003 paper published in the Review of General Psychology. “Gossip in this broad sense plays a number of different roles in the maintenance of socially functional groups through time.”

“We are much more social [than our evolutionary forbearers],” says Ludden, “so it can be very helpful to get information about people [from others] when this network is too big to observe by ourselves.”

Some scholars view gossip as evidence of cultural learning, offering teachable moments and providing people examples of what’s socially acceptable — and what’s not. For example, if there’s someone who cheats a lot in a community or social circle and people start to talk about that person in a negative way, says Robbins, the collective criticism should warn others of the consequences of cheating. And as word near-inevitably trickles back to source of said gossip, it can “serve to keep people in check, morally speaking,” Robbins adds.

What happens physiologically when people gossip?
In a 2015 study published in Social Neuroscience, scientists looked at brain imaging of men and women as they heard positive and negative gossip about themselves, their best friends and celebrities. People hearing gossip — good and bad — about themselves, as well as negative gossip in general, showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex of their brains, which is key to our ability to navigate complex social behaviors.

This activity indicated the subjects responded to the gossip and its insight. The authors say this is related to our desire to be seen positively by others and fit in socially, regardless of whether this reflects what we’re actually feeling.

The study also found that the caudate nucleus, a reward center in the brain, was activated in response to negative gossip about celebrities; subjects seemed to be amused or entertained by salacious celebrity scandals. (The researchers also polled how the subjects felt, in addition to studying what their brain images revealed. Not surprisingly, they were happier to hear positive gossip about themselves, and more irked by hearing negative gossip about themselves as opposed to hearing gossip about others.)

So, can gossip be good for you?
“People are really resistant to thinking about gossip as anything but bad behavior,” says Robbins. And Feinberg notes that there are some types of gossip that should be avoided, such as gossip that is purely harmful and serves no greater purpose — like mean comments about someone’s looks.

In such a scenario, “you’re not learning anything,” Robbins adds. “No one is benefiting.”

There’s also a physiological distinction to be drawn between active and passive participation in gossip. Matthew Feinberg, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, and his colleagues explored this in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. When subjects heard about another person’s anti-social behavior or an injustice, their heart rates increased. When they were able to actively gossip about the person, or the situation, on the other hand, it soothed them and brought their heart rates down. The act of gossiping, Feinberg explains, “helps calm the body.”

In addition, Feinberg’s research has shown that gossip can promote cooperation by spreading important information. “When people say ‘your reputation precedes you,’ it’s because they have heard gossip about that person,” he says, which “can be extremely useful.” That said, disseminating or not correcting gossip you know to be untrue doesn’t have any pro-social benefit.

In another of Feinberg’s studies, a group of participants identified members who behaved selfishly via gossip and promptly kicked them out. In the study, participants were divided into subgroups, and then each person was given a number of points representing small sums of money. Each participant could contribute these points to their group — in which case, the points would be doubled and redistributed equally — or keep them for themselves. Armed with the knowledge of their peers’ decisions, participants then played the game over again in different groupings. Crucially, they could inform their new groups how much someone had contributed in earlier exercises and could vote to exclude someone who had behaved selfishly from around entirely.

Having eliminated those bad apples, remaining participants were then able to work more harmoniously and inflate their collective pot. Individuals who had given less than half their points initially increased their contributions by the end of the latter rounds, while those who had been excluded gave significantly more after they were allowed back into the game, conforming to the less selfish behavior.

Gossiping also says something about the relationships people have with each other. “In order to gossip, you need to feel close to people,” says Stacy Torres, assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, San Francisco, who has studied gossip in older adults. “There’s an intimacy” to sharing experiences and feeling like you’re on the same page about others, she points out. Torres’ research has found that gossip can stave off loneliness, while other studies have found it can facilitate bonding and closeness and serve as a form of entertainment.

So, keep on talking. And when your conversation turns to gossip, as it inevitably will, remember that some good can come of it — with the right intentions, of course.

 

70 Replies to “Why people gossip?

  1. Hi there, I discovered your website by the use of Google even as searching for a related matter, your site got here up,
    it seems to be great. I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

    Hello there, just become aware of your blog via
    Google, and located that it’s truly informative.
    I’m going to watch out for brussels. I’ll be grateful should you proceed this in future.
    Lots of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

    my web site – CBD for sale

  2. Thank you for some other wonderful post. Where
    else may just anybody get that kind of info in such an ideal way of writing?
    I have a presentation subsequent week, and I’m at the
    look for such info.

  3. I truly love your blog.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you develop this amazing site yourself?
    Please reply back as I’m planning to create my own website and want to know where you got this from
    or what the theme is called. Thanks!

  4. Nice post. I was checking constantly this weblog and I am impressed!
    Extremely helpful info particularly the last part
    🙂 I care for such info a lot. I used to be seeking this
    particular info for a long time. Thanks and good luck.

  5. Definitely consider that that you said. Your favorite
    reason seemed to be on the net the simplest factor to
    be mindful of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed whilst other folks consider issues that they plainly don’t know about.

    You controlled to hit the nail upon the top and also
    outlined out the whole thing with no need side-effects , other folks
    can take a signal. Will likely be again to get more. Thank
    you

  6. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure
    of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got
    to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  7. Wonderful article! That is the type of info that are supposed to be shared across the web.

    Shame on the search engines for no longer positioning this publish higher!
    Come on over and talk over with my site . Thank you =)

  8. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic however
    , I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa?

    My site goes over a lot of the same topics as yours and I
    think we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you’re interested feel free to send me an e-mail.

    I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!

  9. Howdy! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after browsing
    through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  10. What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It absolutely
    useful and it has aided me out loads. I am hoping to give a contribution & help different customers like its helped me.
    Great job.

  11. Every weekend i used to pay a quick visit this web page,
    as i wish for enjoyment, as this this website conations really nice
    funny material too.

  12. Heya i’m for the first time here. I came across this board and I find It truly useful & it helped
    me out a lot. I hope to give something back and aid others like
    you helped me.

  13. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I certainly enjoyed reading it, you happen to be a great
    author.I will remember to bookmark your blog and will come back later on. I want to encourage yourself to continue your great writing,
    have a nice afternoon!

  14. It’s amazing to pay a visit this web site and reading the views of all
    mates regarding this piece of writing, while I am also keen of getting know-how.

  15. Admiring the hard work you put into your blog and detailed information you present.
    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed material.

    Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS
    feeds to my Google account.

  16. Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to check out your
    website on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the knowledge you provide
    here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, awesome site!

  17. I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your website.
    Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues?
    A number of my blog readers have complained about my website not operating correctly in Explorer but looks
    great in Opera. Do you have any suggestions to help fix this issue?

  18. Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could get a
    captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using
    the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  19. Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles?

    I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. But just imagine if
    you added some great pictures or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!
    Your content is excellent but with images and video clips,
    this site could undeniably be one of the very best in its niche.
    Terrific blog!

  20. I am not sure where you’re getting your info, but good topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more.
    Thanks for great info I was looking for this information for my mission.

  21. hello there and thank you for your info – I’ve certainly picked up anything new from right here.

    I did however expertise a few technical points using this website,
    as I experienced to reload the site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly.
    I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and
    could damage your high-quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords.
    Well I am adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out
    for much more of your respective fascinating content. Make sure you
    update this again very soon.

  22. Just wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness for your put
    up is simply spectacular and i could suppose you’re a professional in this subject.
    Fine together with your permission allow me to snatch your feed to stay up to date with drawing close post.
    Thanks 1,000,000 and please carry on the gratifying work.

  23. My brother recommended I would possibly like this website.

    He was totally right. This put up truly made my day.

    You can not consider just how so much time I had spent for this information!
    Thank you!

  24. Attractive element of content. I just stumbled upon your site
    and in accession capital to say that I get actually loved account your blog posts.
    Anyway I’ll be subscribing on your feeds or even I achievement you access consistently
    rapidly.

  25. Hey there would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re
    working with? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different internet browsers and I
    must say this blog loads a lot quicker then most.
    Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a reasonable price?
    Cheers, I appreciate it!

  26. Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Spending some time and
    actual effort to create a good article…
    but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get
    anything done.

  27. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read something like this before. So nice to seek out anyone with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thanks for starting this up. this web site is something that is wanted on the net, somebody with a bit of originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *