Do you like to gossip? We’ve found that most people do enjoy a good rumor or a salacious story. Unless you’re the one being gossiped about, of course. Then it’s not enjoyable at all.
In my opinion, half of gossip is harmless, and I generally don’t mind when someone tells me an anecdote or a funny tale about another person. It’s the other 50 percent that I do not like, and when the person wielding the gossip is using it as a cruel or malicious weapon with the intent to harm.
I’ve realized it’s a good way to gauge someone’s soul or even to put a person in check who is telling stories out of turn, lying, or just being mean for the “fun” of it. You have to steer well clear of those nosy Nellies.
Gossip spreads like wildfire, and people say they don’t like blabbermouths, but what if there is more value in spilling some tea than you first thought?
One study from Dartmouth’s Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (COSAN) suggests that gossip isn’t just normal behavior. It actually may be beneficial to us.
So that begs the question: Can gossip be good?
Let’s dish some dirt.
What Is Gossip?
Let’s start at the beginning and define gossip. In accordance with commonly held norms, gossip is assumed to be derogatory, simplistic, and predominantly female-driven. When you put it that way, it sounds nasty, and who would cop to this behavior? Not us!
But the definition is not so black and white after all – you might be more of a shit-talker than you give yourself credit for. Approximately 14% percent of our daily chatter can be classified as gossip, according to research published in Social Psychology and Personality Science in 2019.
More importantly, the rumors are usually “neutral, rather than positive or negative, and about social information,” the study’s abstract reads. “These naturalistic observation findings dispel some stereotypes about this prevalent yet misunderstood behavior.”
That sounds much better than how gossip is usually defined – and close to harmless.
Not all tattle-y tidbits of info are shared by two gossipy Gerties laughing behind people’s backs. It might be a casual conversation at work between two coworkers, or a quick vent sesh on social media.
It’s a normal part of life to talk about others when they aren’t present, as long as you’re not spreading lies or trying to bring someone down in order to boost your own social standing through your words. COSAN used a straightforward public goods game to prove their point.
“In the game, participants played 10 rounds in six-person groups. Players got $10 in each round and could choose to either keep it or invest the money back into a group fund. Players then split the total savings equally among their teams,” says Suggest.
“This type of game inherently creates tension between selfish and cooperative players. Researchers would either dissipate or enhance this tension by allowing (or prohibiting) members to observe the behaviors of all their teammates. In instances where this was prohibited, teammates could only engage with a few other group players.”
Researchers found that limiting players’ access to information about their teammates increased the frequency of unprompted discussions amongst players on the same squad.
“Participants relied on second-hand information from their partners to stay informed about other people’s behavior, illustrating how gossip enables individuals to learn from the experiences of others when direct observation is not feasible,” a media release states.
Furthermore, “when players could directly observe all of their group members, they tended to chit-chat and discussed a wider array of topics.”
Results also showed that players who engaged in conversations with one another after each game reported feeling the most connected to their teammates and commonly echoed the same thoughts.
This observation demonstrates yet another benefit of chit-chat.
“By exchanging information with others, gossip is a way of forming relationships. It involves trust and facilitates a social bond that is reinforced as further communication takes place,” Luke Chang, director of COSAN, explains.
Takeaways Of The Study
The recent Dartmouth study highlights the focal points:
“Gossip is a multi-faceted behavior that reflects multiple social functions.”
“It facilitates learning from others when direct observation is not possible.”
“Gossip builds social connections and aligns social impressions and behavior.”
“It increases cooperative group behavior in public goods games.”
The Bonding Power Of Gossip Is Undeniable
According to the study’s press release, in a standard public goods game, players’ contributions gradually decrease as the game progresses. (For example, they might prefer to retain their money for themselves rather than contribute to the team fund since they assume that everyone else is doing the same).
“However, in this study, cooperation declined less over time when players could privately communicate. Communication increased collective cooperation,” says Suggest.
Even if some players weren’t pulling their weight, the squad was able to stay together because of the bonding effect of gossip.
According to the results, gossip contributes to the construction of a “shared reality” in which people can find common links, make alliances, trade personal information, and discuss the behavior of others to establish a consensus of socially acceptable behavior.
How Can Gossip Be Good?
The results of this study can be easily misinterpreted, to be fair. The COSAN investigation is not grounds for smearing someone’s reputation.
However, it does imply that the talks you have with your closest coworker or friend are, in fact, harmless. As a matter of fact, they might be helping you grow closer, reinforce societal norms, and help you both learn.
Additionally, there are complex societal norms to take into account before running your mouth.
When members of a dominant group talk about members of a minority group, the boundary between positive and negative rumors might blur. If not addressed, microaggressions can quickly lead to defamation.
Aside from that, feel free to spill a little tea. After all, we heard through the grapevine that gossip serves a valuable social function.
Would you consider yourself a gossip? Tell us in the comments!
Keep Scrolling To Read More Health And Wellness Articles: