Navigation Links
Gossip can have social and psychological benefits

For centuries, gossip has been dismissed as salacious, idle chatter that can damage reputations and erode trust. But a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests rumor-mongering can have positive outcomes such as helping us police bad behavior, prevent exploitation and lower stress.

"Gossip gets a bad rap, but we're finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order," said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a coauthor of the study published in this month's online issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The study also found that gossip can be therapeutic. Volunteers' heart rates increased when they witnessed someone behaving badly, but this increase was tempered when they were able to pass on the information to alert others.

"Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip," Willer said.

So strong is the urge to warn others about unsavory characters that participants in the UC Berkeley study sacrificed money to send a "gossip note" to warn those about to play against cheaters in economic trust games. Overall, the findings indicate that people need not feel bad about revealing the vices of others, especially if it helps save someone from exploitation, the researchers said.

"We shouldn't feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of," said Matthew Feinberg, a UC Berkeley social psychologist and lead author of the paper.

The study focused on "prosocial" gossip that "has the function of warning others about untrustworthy or dishonest people," said Willer, as opposed to the voyeuristic rumor-mongering about the ups and downs of such tabloid celebrities as Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen.

In a series of four experiments, researchers used games in which the players' generosity toward each other was measured by how many dollars or points they shared. In the first experiment, 51 volunteers were hooked up to heart rate monitors as they observed the scores of two people playing the game. After a couple of rounds, the observers could see that one player was not playing by the rules and was hoarding all the points.

Observers' heart rates increased as they witnessed the cheating, and most seized the opportunity to slip a "gossip note" to warn a new player that his or her contender was unlikely to play fair. The experience of passing on the information calmed this rise in heart rate.

"Passing on the gossip note ameliorated their negative feelings and tempered their frustration," Willer said. "Gossiping made them feel better."

In the second experiment, 111 participants filled out questionnaires about their level of altruism and cooperativeness. They then observed monitors showing the scores from three rounds of the economic trust game, and saw that one player was cheating.

The more prosocial observers reported feeling frustrated by the betrayal and then relieved to be given a chance to pass a gossip note to the next player to prevent exploitation.

"A central reason for engaging in gossip was to help others out more so than just to talk trash about the selfish individual," Feinberg said. "Also, the higher participants scored on being altruistic, the more likely they were to experience negative emotions after witnessing the selfish behavior and the more likely they were to engage in the gossip."

To raise the stakes, participants in the third experiment were asked to go so far as to sacrifice the pay they received to be in the study if they wanted to send a gossip note. Moreover, their sacrifice would not negatively impact the selfish player's score. Still, a large majority of observers agreed to take the financial hit just to send the gossip note.

"People paid money to gossip even when they couldn't affect the selfish person's outcome," Feinberg said.

In the final study, 300 participants from around the country were recruited via Craigslist to play several rounds of the economic trust game online. They played using raffle tickets that would be entered in a drawing for a $50 cash prize -an extra incentive to hold on to as many raffle tickets as possible.

Some players were told that the observers during a break could pass a gossip note to players in the next round to alert them to individuals not playing fairly. The threat of being the subject of negative gossip spurred virtually all the players to act more generously, especially those who had scored low on an altruism questionnaire taken prior to the game.

Together, the results from all four experiments show that "when we observe someone behave in an immoral way, we get frustrated," Willer said. "But being able to communicate this information to others who could be helped makes us feel better."


Contact: Yasmin Anwar
University of California - Berkeley

Related medicine news :

1. Pssst... Gossip Might Serve a Useful Function
2. Social Anxiety and Panic - Alternative Treatment to Drugs and Therapy
3. Alzheimers Association Applauds Social Security Administration for Adding Early-Onset Alzheimers to Its Compassionate Allowances Initiative
4. Patients with Lethal Lung Disease Finally Receive Recognition by Social Security Administration
5. Alzheimers Foundation of America Applauds Social Security for Speeding Disability Benefits for Early-Onset Alzheimers Disease
6. BusinessCard2 Wins Social Business Innovation Award
7. Greenwala and PETCO Announce Healthy Living, Healthy Pet Social Media Campaign
8. Census Bureau News -- 2007 Economic Census: Health Care and Social Assistance Geographic Area Series (NAICS 62)
9. RetireSafe Survey Says Seniors Are Struggling With Increased Costs Without an Increased Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment
10. Husbands hostile, anti-social behaviors increase wives symptoms of depression, researchers find
11. Shortage of Black Doctors Rooted in Social, Economic Ills
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/27/2016)... , ... June 27, 2016 , ... recently awarded ... Eyeglasses . , Millions of individuals in the United States and Canada wear ... a way to both correct vision and make a fashion statement. Even celebrities use ...
(Date:6/26/2016)... NC (PRWEB) , ... June 26, 2016 , ... Brent Kasmer, a legally blind and ... to be personalized through a fitness app. The fitness app plans to fix the two ... currently only offer a one size fits all type program , They don’t ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... 2016 , ... "With 30 hand-drawn hand gesture animations, FCPX users can easily ... of Pixel Film Studios. , ProHand Cartoon’s package transforms over 1,300 hand-drawn pictures ... . Simply select a ProHand generator and drag it above media or text in ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... June 25, 2016 , ... Conventional wisdom preaches the benefits of moderation, whether ... latter, setting the bar too high can result in disappointment, perhaps even self-loathing. However, ... their goal. , Research from reveals that behind the tendency ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... ... Sessions in Dallas that it will receive two significant new grants to support ... as PHA marked its 25th anniversary by recognizing patients, medical professionals and scientists ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016  In a startling report released ... failing their residents by lacking a comprehensive, proven plan to eliminate ... a definitive ranking of how states are tackling the worst drug ... only four states – Kentucky , ... Vermont . Of the 28 failing states, three – ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016 Research and Markets has announced ... Analysis 2016 - Forecast to 2022" report to their ... contains up to date financial data derived from varied research ... trends with potential impact on the market during the next ... which comprises of sub markets, regional and country level analysis. ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... DUBLIN , June 23, 2016 ... "Key Pharma News Issue 52" report to their offering. ... need in influenza treatment creates a favourable commercial environment for ... and growing patient base that will serve to drive considerable ... flu vaccine would serve to cap sales considerably, but development ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: