Did you hear? Gossip can be good for you

Often frowned upon as being destructive and harmful, it turns out the age-old art of gossip does have its plus-sides.

US writer and socialite Alice Roosevelt Longworth summed it up so well when she said: “If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us enjoy a little tea room talk or a quick update on the latest news and rumours over an after-work wine with friends.

It can be accompanied by a sneaking feeling that what we’re doing is not quite right – but there is some good news for those who like to hear it on the grapevine.

Gossip can build bonds

Queensland study has found dishing the dirt about bad behaviour builds bond between people and affirms appropriate social behaviours.

Researchers observed gossiping between 65 pairs of university students after they were shown videos, including one where someone littered and one where someone picked up the litter.

Study co-lead Dr Kim Peters, from University of Queensland School of Psychology, says on average, students who watched the littering video gossiped twice as much as those who didn’t.

“People who witnessed the littering were very likely to spontaneously gossip about it with one another,” she says.

“The more they gossiped about it, the more they reported a better understanding of social norms.

“They also expressed a greater desire to gossip about the behaviour.

“This suggests that our everyday gossip helps us build social bonds and develop a better understanding of the social groups and societies we belong in.”

The social consequences of gossip

Study co-lead Professor Jolanda Jetten says gossip has wider social consequences, such as the #metoo stories resulting from sexual harassment allegations in the US entertainment industry.

“Gossiping allows us to monitor other people’s reputations, and by learning about their behaviours we are in a better position to decide whether we should, or should not, trust them in the future,” she says.

gossip benefits

Gossip can be good for our health

University of Pavia scientists have discovered the brain releases significantly greater proportions of the hormone oxytocin when we gossip, compared with other forms of conversation.

Oxytocin is often described as the pleasure hormone – it’s released when we’re aroused, during and after sex, during mother-child bonding, or when we touch each other.

Gossip can make us better people

Dutch researchers found that hearing gossip about others made people more reflective.

Negative gossip inspired self-improvement, while positive gossip made people prouder of themselves.

But before you rush off to spread the news …

Dr Peters reminds us there are boundaries to consider.

“Gossiping can create bonds and help us to better understand our social world, which is obviously a good thing,” she says.

“However, when gossip is inaccurate, there is the possibility of doing harm to a person who doesn’t deserve it.

“Even when it’s accurate, there is the possibility that the social punishment does not fit the crime.

“So, it’s important to be mindful of the power of gossip while taking advantage of its benefits.”

While you’re here, take a look at why real-life friendships matter in the digital age, and how friends can influence your mood and behaviour.