Don’t feel guilty about gossip; enjoy it

From the Anchorage Daily News (Anchorage, Alaska):

Most of us feel guilty about how much we love to gossip. Calling someone “an old gossip” is hardly a compliment.

But new research is showing that gossip helps us. It’s a source of useful information, concludes Frank McAndrew, professor of psychology at Knox College.

Our prehistoric ancestors lived their lives in small groups where people knew everyone in a face-to-face, long-term kind of way. Living under such conditions, our ancestors faced a number of problems, such as figuring out who would cheat you, who would be a good mate, and how to successfully manage friendships, alliances and family relationships.

They needed social intelligence for success, the ability to predict and influence the behavior of others. Gossip gives you just this sort of information.

People who were interested in the lives of others were more successful and it is their genes that have come down to us through the ages. Our inability to resist gossip shouldn’t be a source of guilt. It’s a sign of valuable talent at gathering useful information

If you can remember details about the temperament, predictability and past behavior of individuals whom you knew personally, you are much better off. You can predict what they’re likely to do and do to you.

We want stories about particular people. “I’m not surprised when the same psychology students who get glassy-eyed at any mention of statistical data about human beings become riveted by case studies of individual people experiencing psychological problems,” McAndrew points out.