Have You Heard The Latest? Study Shows Gossip Is Good For You!

Prosocial gossip, stress, behavior

Sitting around with friends, someone always inevitably brings up “Did you hear what so-and-so did?”  And before we can help ourselves, everyone’s talking about who’s dating who, who did what to who, and what happened to so-and-so.  We are enthralled; rumors and gossip about other people’s lives makes great conversation.  And everyone does it, especially us college students.  People can’t wait to spread the latest gossip and hear the latest that’s going on.  And with media like Perez Hilton, Access Hollywood, and other TV shows, websites, magazines, etc… gossip (both ours and that of celebrities) continues to be our guilty pleasure.  It is very much a part of our everyday lives in spite of being frowned upon by society.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, however, gossip is good for you!  It’s proven to reduce stress and control bad behavior.  Who knew that when we were talking bad about other people we were actually lowering our stress?  Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley did a series of experiments to test how gossip affects people.  The focus was on prosocial gossip, which is negative gossip that is used to warn others about someone’s untrustworthy or mean behavior.  By engaging in prosocial gossip, people were able to deter selfishness and promote cooperation among members.   This played a crucial role in maintaining social order and preventing exploitation.  Gossip worked as a preventative measure to stop people from cheating.  So, telling your friend about so-and-so cheating on her boyfriend really is good for society, not just for your blabbering mouth.  Furthermore, prosocial gossip reduced stress significantly, making people more relaxed.

To test this, the participants observed a number of games in which they witnessed someone cheating.  The participants’ heart rates were monitored and they were given the opportunity to warn others through “gossip notes.”  In the experiment, they found that the participant’s heart rate increased when they noticed someone cheating, and most wrote a “gossip note” to warn the other player.  Engaging in this behavior reduced their heart rates considerably.  Furthermore, participants who were the most altruistic tended to engage in prosocial gossiping the most.  Taking this study even further, participants were asked to sacrifice the pay they received for being in the study if they sent a “gossip note” informing the players about the cheater.  The majority of people were still willing to send the note even when losing money.

This suggests that prosocial gossiping plays a major role in stopping the exploitation of others and preventing bad behavior. In addition, gossip plays an important role in lowering our own stresses.  According to Professor Robb Willer, “ We tend to think of gossip as a bad reputation, but if you were to remove it, that would be at the cost of social order.” No wonder so much of our time is devoted to gossiping.

Read the full study The virtues of gossip: Reputational information sharing as prosocial behavior.

About the Author

Yael Kent Yael Kent is a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara majoring in psychology and global studies. Yael is actively involved in intimacy and relationship research and works in the Close Relationships Lab for UCSB’s psychology department. Yael also works on campus at the UCSB Children’s Center and plans to pursue a Master’s in child development.

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