Gossip is good for us, new study says

Researchers from the Netherlands say that gossip (whether good or bad) can be a positive thing.

As Psych Central reports, a team from the University of Groningen asked participants in one study to think about a time when they heard gossip about someone else. They were then asked questions about how this affected them. The researchers discovered that positive gossip correlated with a desire for self-improvement and negative gossip made people more self-protective – for example, being more careful about what they shared (and with whom).

In some cases, it also made people feel better about themselves. Lead researcher Elena Martinescu says, ‘Hearing negative gossip may be flattering, because it suggests that others — the gossip target — may function less well than we do.’

In a second study, people were asked to imagine they were salespeople. Some participants heard positive gossip about someone else’s job performance while others heard a real slagging off. People in the first group felt more motivated to succeed while people in the second group were more worried about their performance but also keen to promote their own value.

While Martinescu and her colleagues expected positive gossip to be a call to action, they were surprised that negative gossip is also a motivating force. They concluded that gossip is socially useful: a way for us to measure our interpersonal and employment performance and potential against others, and adjust as necessary. It can also let us know where we’re excelling (and others aren’t), even if schadenfreude mightn’t be the nicest source of self-esteem.

Considering that it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, the researchers recommend that instead of trying to ignore it or override it, we accept gossip as part of life – one that we can use to our advantage.

Image via Carl Nenzén Lovén’s Flickr.

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