Good – no, great– news: gossiping is now a positive thing!

Sounds too good to be true? You’re correct to some degree. It isn’t the sort of gossiping that might come to mind at first. By that sort of gossiping we mean when people trash-talk others in order to defame the victim(s) or – and let’s all be quite honest here – unsuccessfully attempt to feel better about themselves by elevating their own wonderful, brilliant characteristics … only then to have the temporary effects of loving themselves fade and be left still unhappy.

The sort of gossiping that a recent study from UC Berkeley gives a thumbs-up is the kind that informs other people of the bad traits or actions of another so that the former can avoid exploitation or any other sort of harm, should the opportunity come around. Gossiping can “[help] us police bad behavior, prevent exploitation and lower stress.” In a way, it aids in maintaining social order by causing people to share information about someone that they caught behaving badly.

Volunteers for the research underwent some situations where they were connected to heart rate monitors  and then faced with an “economic trust game” where one of the players was blatantly cheating. Heart rates increased as stress levels mounted in the audience. Generosity of the observers was based on how willing they were to slip a “gossip note” to the player being taken advantage of, informing the latter of his or her opponent’s betrayal. Surprisingly, the results showed that quite a large number of people were willing to sacrifice their money to buy those “gossip notes” for the sake of the player.

According to some of the volunteers, their frustration at seeing the unfairness simmered down once they were able to notify the exploited person about what was happening. The experiment went as far as to force observers to give up their own earnings from participating in the study in order to help the unfairly treated player at hand. And guess what? Many agreed to do so.

Various other experiments were conducted, similar to the previously mentioned. For example, the second study had volunteers fill out a questionnaire about their altruism and cooperation, following with them watching another economic trust game. People who scored high on being altruistic revealed a greater impact of negative feelings and more eager engagement in gossip about the cheating player.

All in all, it seems that gossiping is an important and perhaps even necessary social function (oh, but the girls have already figured this out and formed great friendships over it). So while this isn’t exactly “permission to bitch,” it’s another little insight into the interesting ways that society decides to run – and how elegant the whole system seems to be.

Image source: lenifuzhead under Creative Commons
Gossip isn’t all that bad – new study finds its social and psychological benefits [UC Berkeley News]


Anastazy Dudek said:
Mar 23, 2012 at 12:32 am