From juicy gossip to slander, you can have fun discussing the exploits of your fellow men. Why do you feel good when you gossip and why do you suddenly have this bitter feeling afterwards?
Science reassures us: gossip is universal and timeless. Meanwhile, science has a very broad interpretation of the concept of gossip, i.e. all conversations in which we talk about other people. With this broad understanding, the excitement quickly disappears: three-quarters of our conversations revolve around the lives of others, but without judgment, whether positive or negative. Completely boring, according to researchers who have to analyze the conversations.
Charlotte De Backer is Professor of Communication at the University of Antwerp and has been researching gossiping behavior for several years. She notes that the colloquial language is clear about the boundaries between gossip and a vulgar story: “Everything we say negatively about another person is called gossip.” With this explanation, the amount of gossip shrinks dramatically: Only 15 percent of our gossip conversations can be classified as negative gossip, according to a 2019 study by American psychologist Megan Robbins.
Another surprising finding was that neutral conversations were conducted by women more often than men. If it is defamation, men and women score equally high. So women gossiping more is a cliche that destroys science.
Flea behavior in monkeys
The question remains why we gossip, despite the bad taste such conversation sometimes leaves. The first to build a solid theory about this was the British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. He described gossip as a way to strengthen social bonds, similar to the grooming behavior of monkeys. According to Professor Charlotte De Backer, this only applies to some gossip. “If we are talking about someone who has offended us, for example, by not cooperating with a group task, this behavior can be punished through gossip. By reporting the other person’s antisocial behavior, you are indicating that you have been treated unfairly. This is a way To check whether people adhere to group norms.
Who regularly exciting stories He talks about his fellow man not always having good social intentions. “Sometimes slander is the truth, but it is also often deliberate lies to hurt others. In this case, the feeling that a line has been crossed often arises. Another reason we gossip is self-interest. Backbiting is a valuable tactic.” To enhance one's reputation. “Damending one's rivals is a proven formula that politicians know well.”
Chocolate without the guilt
For truly juicy stories, you have to go to Celebrity Land, the gossip amusement park. De Backer explains that the threshold for telling interesting stories about celebrities is much lower: “Famous people belong to our parasocial relationships: we know a lot about their private lives and look out for people who are doing well. At the same time, these people do not really belong to your social network and you will not receive No response. One-way traffic is attractive to gossip: it's like being able to eat mountains of chocolate without feeling guilty afterwards. That's why Celebrity bashing It is often harsh: we do not experience the direct effects, which is something that happens in real life. By seeing the harm that gossip causes, guilt grows and acts as a natural brake on our negative behavior.
Sometimes the line between the beneficial effect of gossip and the bad taste afterwards is thin. De Backer points out that this is more evident among young people. “They are still developing their personalities and often talk more until they realize how mentally damaging these stories can be.”
With a simple check, you can quickly set your moral compass on the right track, concludes Charlotte De Backer: “Ask yourself whether you would also tell this story if the person were there. If the answer is no, it is better to remain silent.”
“Total coffee specialist. Hardcore reader. Incurable music scholar. Web guru. Freelance troublemaker. Problem solver. Travel trailblazer.”