Why Do We Love to Gossip?

Everyone loves a good chat with their neighbour or colleague, and women especially are always under fire for being prone to gossiping. But studies show that it might be more than just a personality trait – researchers claim that gossiping is very common behaviour and, although we always disapprove, around 60 percent of all conversations are about someone who isn’t present. Most of these conversations are passing judgement, meaning that more of us gossip than we first thought. Everyone knows that gossiping is wrong, but even though no-one wants to seem malicious we all continue to do it.

So what is it about this guilty pleasure that keeps us coming back for more? It’s thought by psychologists that gossip builds social bonds as it enables us to share our likes and dislikes, creating stronger bonds based on shared positives – even, it seems, if they involve other people. It’s a way of demonstrating your shared values and sense of humour with colleagues, neighbours or school friends, as well as adding to the thrill of transgression given that we’re supposed to be positive and friendly all the time. There are magazines devoted to the concept of gossiping about celebrities, for example, proving that our need for gossip is insatiable. When we talk about someone behind their back, we risk looking bad or unfriendly, so gossipers tend to need to trust those they’re talking to – this, in turn, leads to that person feeling inclined to share their own secrets and get in on the act. Anthropologists also claim that gossip is vital in the evolutionary development of our brains – we developed language because of the need to spread gossip, not the other way around. So gossip is something we find comes rather naturally to us.

Listening to gossip not only teaches you things about various people, but it also provides an insight into the place being discussed. For example, when you start a new job, gossip is an invaluable source for snippets of information about colleagues and the environment you’ll be working in. It also helps you settle in quickly because you know the way people work – for example, for some workplaces, making personal calls is banned whereas others are happy for you to phone your kids or take a personal call if you need to. Gossip also aids social climbing – it can be a way of fitting in, making friends and determining how much you can trust people. But where does the nasty element of gossip come from? Being mean and nasty develops at an early age, when children begin comparing themselves with others. Because children are forbidden from biting or being violent to one another, they turn to verbal violence as a way of separating into groups of popularity and devaluing others, either as a way of boosting self confidence or to climb the social ladder more quickly.

Naturally, gossip can be a risky activity and could end in failure if certain bits of information are put into the wrong hands. Gossip has landed people in difficulty with other people and has even cost people their jobs. It can also damage your reputation and lead to distrust among other people. But it does actually have a good side. We gossip when we feel like we’ve been mistreated, but once we’ve vented we can then rationalise the situation and put those energies into self development instead of mere gossip. When you reach this stage, gossip is no longer needed as a way of making yourself feel good by putting other people down.

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