Why Gossiping is Good for Us 

Have you heard? Despite all its bad publicity, research suggests that gossiping might in fact be good for you.

Your parents probably discouraged it when you were a child and, even as an adult, it’s still somewhat of a taboo. It’s the pervasive, sometimes irresistible art of gossiping, and it’s known for being unkind, deceitful and malicious. It can ruin reputations, break hearts and spread lies – or so you’ve been told. But – have you heard? – despite all its bad publicity, gossiping might actually be good for you. Here’s the inside scoop.

Gossip didn’t always have such a bad rap. It’s originally from the Old English godssib, which refers to a godparent or a close friend with whom one shared news. By the 19th century, the word “gossip” was being used all the time, and was starting to inch itself closer and closer to the definition of “idle talk”. Eventually, it was equated to prying and interfering chatter, as it is defined today.

Why do we gossip?

But believe it or not, gossiping can be traced back to way before it was a word in our vocabulary – right back to our early evolutionary development. Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, argues that as our ancestors become more intelligent and their groupings more socially complex, they used gossip to develop common identities and to draw lines of friendship and rivalry.

These traits still exist today. After all, gossiping is a bonding tool. By exchanging stories and secrets, we feel connected to those around us, and we develop a clearer understanding about ourselves and where we belong. We’re also innately curious about those around us and almost no one is immune from the occasional seduction of schadenfreude, which is the pleasure we experience from someone else’s misfortune. Gossip makes all of this possible.

What do the experts say?

Research on gossip has been conducted everywhere from the University of Texas and Oklahoma in the States to the University of Pavia in Italy. While the Americans found that sharing negative feelings about someone can bring people closer, the Italians identified a higher release of the so-called pleasure hormone, oxytocin, when we gossip compared to when we chat normally. Gossiping has even been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Dutch researchers have also weighed in on the matter. Their verdict is that positive gossip can inspire and motivate us, while negative gossip can help us to feel more satisfied with who we are and what we’ve achieved. Gossip also serves as a warning: we’re more likely to take a lesson from someone else’s troubles if we feel terrible when we hear it.

Of course, gossip can be unkind, deceitful and malicious too, and it can certainly be used to share lies. In all of these instances, it deserves its nasty reputation. But if you find yourself whispering a gentle secret into someone’s ear, you’re probably safe: you’re forming a connection, and you’re giving your oxytocin a boost too.


Oxford Dictionary Blog: https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2016/11/08/gossip/

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