How Gossip Could Actually Work for You


You know what they say—nobody likes a gossip. But what if there’s more merit to spilling the tea than you thought? According to a study from the Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory (COSAN) of Dartmouth, gossip isn’t just normal. It may be a form of gossip. GoodFor us. 

And no, this isn’t just us talking smack.

Highlights of the Study

The 2021 Dartmouth StudyThe following points are highlighted:

  • “Gossip is a multi-faceted behavior that reflects multiple social functions.”
  • “Gossip facilitates learning from others when direct observation is not possible.”
  • “Gossip builds social connections and aligns social impressions and behavior.”
  • “Gossip increases cooperative group behavior in public goods games.” 

So, the real question is—How?

Gossip encompasses more than you think

First things first, let’s discuss what gossip Actually is. According to social norms, gossip is considered negative, low-brow and predominantly female-driven. Perhaps this is not your style. Perhaps you are more of a gossiper than you realize. 

Research published in Social Psychology and Personality ResearchIt was found that 14% of our daily conversations are classified as gossip in 2019. Furthermore, gossip tends be “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.”

Some gossip is not as simple as two Nosy Nellies laughing in the corner. You can have water cooler chat, private Zoom meetings between coworkers or quick exchanges on social media.

Understanding The Gossip Games

Assuming you’re not spreading malicious, false rumors or purposefully belittling someone to gain social status, gossip has an important role in everyday life. This was demonstrated by the COSAN with a simple game about public goods.

The game consisted of 10 rounds played in six-person teams. Each round saw players receive $10. They could either keep the money or invest it back in a fund. The players then split their total savings equally between their teams. 

This game naturally creates tension between selfish and co-operative players. Researchers could either reduce or increase tension by permitting (or banning) teammates to observe the behavior of their fellow players. Only a few teammates were allowed to engage in group play in cases where this was forbidden.

Gossip or No Gossip?

When researchers restricted players’Access to information about their teammates, spontaneous conversations between teammates occurred more frequently. “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 Press release.

Conversely, “when players could directly observe all of their group members, they tended to chit-chat and discussed a wider array of topics.”Participants who had a conversation with each other felt more connected after the game. They also had a tendency to share the same ideas as their fellow teammates. 

This phenomenon shows another side of gossip: “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, COSAN director, explains.

Gossip: The glue that holds us all together

The study’s media release explains that in a typical public goods game, players contribute less over time. (For example, instead of contributing to the team fund they might choose to keep the money themselves, assuming that others are doing the exact same. 

“However, in this study, cooperation declined less over time when players could privately communicate. Communication increased collective cooperation.”Even though some players were uncooperative, gossip was the glue that kept the team together. 

The study revealed that gossip has a consistent role in creating gossip. “shared reality in which friends and colleagues find common bonds, establish alliances, exchange personal information, and discuss the behavior of others to establish a consensus of socially acceptable behavior.”

Gossip’s Positive Side

This study could be misconstrued, to be fair. The COSAN’s findings don’t give you the green light to run someone’s name in the mud. It does indicate that the relatively harmless conversations that you have with your friend or coworker are not harmful. These conversations could be strengthening social expectations, bringing you closer together and even teaching you.

There are also delicate social constructs to consider—this Instagram post from the Reductress comes to mind.

When a group that is not marginalized starts to talk about another, the line between neutral or negative gossip can get blurred. Unchecked microaggressions could quickly turn a conversation into slander. 

But otherwise, don’t be afraid to gab a bit. According to the scuttlebutt, this type of chit-chat is a great way to meet your social goals and provide you with a lot of benefit.

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