Science Says Gossip Isn’t “Baseless Trash Talk”, But the Key to Forming Relationships

gossip girl

Growing up with the greatest show of all time, Gossip Girl — okay, maybe the greatest two seasons of a show of all time — meant you were taught ‘gossip’ is a bad thing, resulting in social ostracisation, the dumping of yoghurt on heads, and the revealing of so many affairs, illicit hookups, and selling of people for hotels (?), to name a few.

The meaning of gossip has been pretty limited for years — in fact, one study says gossip remains poorly understood, as it’s been narrowly cast as “baseless trash talk”.

The study, which came out of Dartmouth and was published in Current Biology, aimed to prove that gossip is actually a “rich, multifaceted constructs, that plays a critical role in vicarious learning and social bonding”. But how do you prove that?

Well, first, you provide some stats and some statements.

Stats like the fact gossip makes up 14% of our daily conversations and is primarily neutral in content. Statements, like gossip being “complex”, and the co-author of the study, Eshin Jolly, saying it’s a means of “social and substantive connection.”

Secondly, you use a game that is designed to model how we exchange personal information in our lives.

The research team told mindbodygreen that they created a life-like scenario, “in which you’re a member of a community and affected by the actions of all other community members, but most of whom you rarely observe and engage with directly”.

When playing a game where you can chat to your opponent, or solely be restricted to gameplay, guess which one they chose again and again? Yep, participants indicated how much they’d want to play with that person again. Oh, and those who had a more open chat were more inclined to play together again.

Turns out gossip is pretty crucial when it comes to forming relationships. The co-author of the study, Luke Change, says it’s due to this information exchange, and that gossip “involves trust and facilitates a social bond that is reinforced as further communication takes place.”

The moral of the story: Gossip facilitates learning from others, builds social connections, and increases cooperative group behaviour in certain situations. Gossip = good.

And who are we to argue with science?

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