Knox Psychology Professor Frank McAndrew explains why gossip may actually be good for you.
Researchers say that a little bit of gossip is healthy. It’s what keeps the culture going, greasing the social machinery.
It’s almost like being told that cigarettes are good for you.
“It’s a social skill, not a character flaw,” says Frank McAndrew a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “It’s only when you don’t do it well that you get into trouble.”
To discover more about how gossip works — to learn who and what people are most likely to gab about — McAndrew rounded up 140 college students. He and his colleagues asked the 42 men and 98 women to read 12 brief fictional stories — the type that would be the perfect grist for gossip.
Some of the stories had positive subjects, such as a winning a major award or inheriting a large sum of money. Some of the stories revolved around negative themes, including drunken behavior, sexual promiscuity, gambling problems and academic cheating.
After reading each story, the students were told to rank how likely they would be to seek out more information depending on whether the scenario described a relative, a professor, an acquaintance, a friend, a stranger, an enemy or rival, or a romantic partner.
The results, recently published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, showed that the nature of the gossip controlled whether it was passed on. People generally were willing to share damaging, negative personal information when it involved a same sex rival. And they’d happily pass on good news only if it was about a friend.