Hearing gossip about people can change the way you see them — literally.
Negative gossip actually alters the way our visual system responds to a particular face, according to a study published online by the journal Science.
The findings suggest that the human brain is wired to respond to gossip, researchers say. And it adds to the evidence that gossip helped early humans get ahead…
Other scientists say that makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.
“I was actually pretty excited to see this paper,” says Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. “For years, people like me have been saying that our intense interest in gossip is not really a character flaw. It’s part of who we are. It’s almost a biological event, and it exists for good evolutionary reasons.”
Even when primitive humans lived in small groups, they needed to know things like who might be a threat and who was after a particular mate, McAndrew says. And learning those things through personal experience would have been slow and potentially dangerous, he says.
So McAndrew says one shortcut would have been gossip.
“People who had an intense interest in that — that constantly were monitoring who’s sleeping with who and who’s friends with whom and who you can trust and who you can’t — came out ahead,” he says. “People who just didn’t care about that stuff got left behind.”
And it makes sense that our brains pay special attention to negative gossip, McAndrew says.
“If somebody is a competitor or somebody is higher than you in the food chain, you want dirt about them,” he says. “You want negative information, because that’s the stuff you can exploit to get ahead.”