What is Gossip For?

It makes sense to listen to gossip in order to keep track of what folks are up to.  But it seems the main reason we listen to gossip is to prepare to speak gossip, in jockeying for status:

We have consistently found that people are most interested in gossip about individuals of the same sex as themselves who happen to be around their own age. We have also found that information that is socially useful is always of greatest interest to us: we like to know about the scandals and misfortunes of our rivals and of high-status people because this information might be valuable in social competition. Positive information about such people tends to be uninteresting to us. Finding out that someone already higher in status than ourselves has just acquired something that puts that person even further ahead of us does not supply us with ammunition that we can use to gain ground on him. Conversely, positive information about our friends and relatives is very interesting and likely to be used to our advantage whenever possible. 

For example, in studies that my colleagues and I published in 2002 and in 2007 in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, we consistently found that college students were not much interested in hearing about academic awards or a large inheritance if it involved one of their professors and that they were also not very interested in passing that news along to others. Yet the same information about their friends or romantic partners was rated as being quite interesting and likely to be spread around.

I far prefer talking "big ideas" to gossiping, but I know that I am an outlier here, even relative to most academics. This once made me feel superior, but I now realize it puts me at a serious social disadvantage; when others see you don't gossip to monitor talk about you and to defend yourself and your allies, they feel freer to dis you and less inclined to ally with you. 
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  • poke

    It’s common among “geeks” to consider themselves above gossiping and other supposedly irrational social activities. But I wonder which comes first. Is their rationalism a rationalization of social awkwardness or is their social awkwardness a product of their misguided rationalism? Perhaps the two things are mutually reinforcing and that’s why we have a “socially awkward geek” attractor in society to begin with.

    • Amanda Clark

      Poke, I would say attacking people you dont relate to or call “geeks” and having to put someone down to make yourself look good would have to be a personality weakness. So tell me what came first – your inadequacy in have substance or your sad solution of exploiding other people to cover it up?

  • Stuart Armstrong

    I far prefer talking “big ideas” to gossiping, but I know that I am an outlier here, even relative to most academics.

    I pefer that as well, but I find big ideas are stimulating when I’m alert, and draining when I’m tired. Hence, when tired, I gossip; the cognitive load is so much less. Is this a general pattern?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    It seems gossip is a topic of unusually low interest for OB commenters.

    poke, it seems more a case of folks with low gossip abilities finding other talk topics to focus on.

  • Aaron

    Stuart,

    All the more reason to establish dominance; if you doze off, people will be afraid of taking your stuff.

  • Zac

    Just because “they feel freer to dis you and less inclined to ally with you” doesn’t mean you aren’t still superior to them.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    For some reason I just don’t feel much curiosity about the aspects of other people that gossip is usually about. It’s not a conscious pose; I have to force myself to ask any questions at all, even important ones. There are people I’ve known for years and never asked if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend or if they’re married with children, because it’s not really a set of questions that occurs to me.

    If this is a widespread feature of rationalists it ought to indicate something interesting.

  • http://jeremyhuffman.com Jeremy

    Just because “they feel freer to dis you and less inclined to ally with you” doesn’t mean you aren’t still superior to them.

    According to who? The whole point of the social jockeying is to establish a social consensus regarding who is better / better-off than who. If you don’t play the game, you will lose it. You can declare yourself the winner of a completely separate game but since its a social game you really can’t win it by yourself.

  • Michael Howard

    To reach useful conclusions on these issues, I think we should take care to differentiate between high/low interest in versus high/low skill at gossiping (or socialising generally). They often go together but not always.

  • http://blog.contriving.net Dustin

    For some reason I just don’t feel much curiosity about the aspects of other people that gossip is usually about. It’s not a conscious pose; I have to force myself to ask any questions at all, even important ones. There are people I’ve known for years and never asked if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend or if they’re married with children, because it’s not really a set of questions that occurs to me.

    This describes me, as well.

    When I’m in a situation where these sort of things are talked about I find myself wishing I cared more about these niceties. My lack of interest about social, ‘gossipy’, items carries over into my family as well.

    Recently I was talking to a friend of the family who asked about some children of a fairly close uncle whose family I see semi-regularly. I couldn’t remember how many children he actually had, and it was obvious that it was something that I SHOULD know.

    However, I’m not completely sold on the idea that a lack of interest in such things always leads to social awkwardness or social disadvantage, as I’m somewhat aware of the fact that I’m a generally liked and respected person.

  • michael vassar

    There’s an old quote: “an intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex.”

    I honestly don’t think that intellectuals have any understanding of just how BORING most people’s lives are, but they should be able to get some understanding by remembering their own childhoods and how boring the activities they engaged in as children, when their activities were more like those of other children, were, (assuming that they were pretty socially successful until adolescence so their childhood is representative, a fairly common pattern) and by realizing that to most people childhood is looked back at with nostalgia.

  • poke

    Like Eliezer I have an entirely unintentional lack of interest in the relationship status of many long-term friends (and family members). But I must admit I do spend a lot of time tearing down (semi-)public figures (albeit with humorous intent). My guess is that the lack of interest in other peoples’ status comes from a self-preservatory avoidance of status norms generally. If your own status is low (by normal measures) then status blindness might be a reponse. Perhaps talking about “big ideas” is an alternative form of status-talk; Robin sees himself as tackling the big ideas that other academics shy away from, Eliezer sees himself in terms of his potential place in future history, etc. (I personally spend a lot of time thinking about why things that don’t interest me but interest others are completely insignificant in the greater scheme of things; this requires a “big idea” orientation too and is clearly a form of status anxiety.)

  • Greg

    For me, the thing I most often feel I “should know” is what my non-work friends (those I play sports with, for example) do for a living.

    People who are more interested in intellectual things are probably going to have more intellectual relationships; people who are more interested in social things are probably going to have more social relationships. No surprise here. Tribes can be formed within which intellectual relationships are considered more important (the geeks from poke’s comment). But for the most part, it seems that people consider social relationships to be more satisfying, individually, than intellectual relationships.

    Some of that satisfaction comes from a feeling of having a “deep connection” with the other person. This is exemplified by one’s extensive knowledge of a spouse, perhaps by a parent’s knowledge of a growing child. It’s like undertaking a long-term case study of one person. In this metaphor gossip is part of the qualitative research of “lifeology”. While ungossipy people can be generally liked and respected and have their share of interpersonal relationships, it seems they tend to miss out more often on these deeper social relationships.

    Eliezer and his friends’ romantic lives, Dustin and his uncle’s children, me and the occupations of my non-work friends: these are the sorts of details that could have led to deepening a connection with another – not least because knowing these facts is a behavior signaling that the relationship is valued, which leads to reciprocity. (Is there a prisoner’s dilemma where the sought utility is being understood by the other player, and where defection is not using personal resources to understand the other player?)

  • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

    The elephant in the room: girls – gossip as a female phenomenon.

  • michael vassar

    Strong disagreement with Greg.
    It really seems to me that most of the more gossipy people I know barely know their “friends” at all by my standards. They know some trivia and haven’t even non-consciously built any real model from that trivia. Gossipy women don’t do *quite* as badly as gossipy men on this front, perhaps, but they still do terribly. OTOH, come to think of it, intellectual people don’t know their friends as well as I would like either, but I think that most of them still do better.

  • HH

    I thought that it’s usually the high-status people who don’t have accurate social judgments of the world and the people around them, while lower-status people usually do [link below]. The usual explanation is that higher-status individuals don’t have to worry about forming accurate judgments and thus don’t waste time with it, while lower-status individuals have more to gain from social jockeying and thus spend more time informing themselves for social gain. I’d imagine higher and lower status are determined within the relevant group. Is gossiping thus basically the attempt of those who can’t compete on “merits” [however defined for the group] to bend the rules of the social game in their favor?

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/htv4q732123nw511/

  • Zac

    “The elephant in the room: girls – gossip as a female phenomenon.”

    Whenever I see a claim like this I think “are you sure?” I agree that if you asked most men “do you gossip more or less than the average woman” almost all of them would probably say “less.” But this appears to be a gender myth: research suggests that men gossip at least as much, if not more, than women. This is defining gossip as idle chatter about the personal lives of others, be it close associates or high status people. I was personally surprised that even celebrity gossip sites like PerezHilton and TMZ have about 50% male readership.

  • http://diogenes42.blogspot.com Diogenes

    I’ll just second Greg — I think gossip helps facilitate relationships — of course it doesn’t do it by itself, you have to have other non-psychopathic characteristics (e.g. empathy). So I would say to Michael, that people who you think gossip a lot and don’t have deep relationships are probably lacking in other interpersonal skills.

    I’ll also second Stuart — gossiping is really easy to do, especially when you’re tired. It also keeps you uptodate with whats going on with the people around you. I generally find myself engaged in those types of discussions at the end of a day.

  • http://www.jackchristopher.com Jack Christopher

    “Great minds talk about ideas, average minds talk about events, and small minds talk about people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

    I don’t know of the context of the quote. It may have been in conversation or prose. But even with the strong tribalism, it’s a fairly accurate assessment.

  • sk

    “I far prefer talking “big ideas” to gossiping, but I know that I am an outlier here, even relative to most academics. This once made me feel superior, but I now realize it puts me at a serious social disadvantage;”

    So, it no longer make you feel superior?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p010536554b68970c/ DW

    Can’t stand gossip, and don’t care for those who do it.

    But then, that’s probably because I lost two of my best friends when I caught them gossiping about me when I was accidentally cc’ed on their email, and saying “I’m so glad people don’t know about OUR marriages!” when in fact, I knew everything about their marriages and called them on it. I didn’t like gossip before that, but now, I shut it down if I hear it going on around me at all.

  • Alan

    Perhaps there is a case of the near/far dichotomy here. Gossip, mostly constituted by the perturbations and vicissitudes of other peoples’ life narratives, would be proximate, human-scale, reactive storytelling–while the pursuit of abstract understanding would be distant. To a mind focussed on the far objective, gossip may seem like white background noise. Sure, there are lots of ups and downs in the life narratives, but their amplitude is pretty limitjed.

    While not being prone to gossip may be disadvantageous in some social contexts, in others it may be a powerful social advantage, because it allows one the social space to appear wise or to be known to act wisely.

    If you’re not good at the gossip game, what incentive is there to play at all? One aspect of gossip is that it tends to go stale rather quickly. If you have a tidbit of gossip, it is bound to be evanescent, and that may go some distance in accounting for the need to pass it on quickly. Repeating stale gossip would likely have the opposite effect of social enhancement. It would make one appear out of the loop. Consequently, there is a real social downside to playing the game poorly.

    I think, as Stuart Armstrong has aptly put it, when one’s mental resources are running low, it is easier to fall into gossip–shifting from the distant to the near; otherwise, a challenging problem can be much more interesting.

  • frelkins

    @Greg

    (Is there a prisoner’s dilemma where the sought utility is being understood by the other player, and where defection is not using personal resources to understand the other player?)

    Indeed, Greg, this is called “a love affair,” and it is precisely what women want, and what men withhold.

    poke, it seems more a case of folks with low gossip abilities finding other talk topics to focus on.

    I agree. Gossip signals in-group status and trust-based alliances. Which make your career.

    “Malicious” gossip is crucial to ensure you and the person to whom you’re gossiping have the same “enemies.” You both despise that snotty girl in Widgets! Everybody who’s anybody hates that snotty girl in Widgets!

    But you still might not be in exactly the right in-group. Test that. Isn’t the nice girl in Blodgets so cool? Yes, she is. Good, now you’ve established that you have the same “allies.”

    Then you shift to useful small secrets to build trust. Did you know that the nice girl in Blodgets went for a drink with that hot guy in Muffets? Oooh, a possible inter-office romance! It’s a secret, tho’, don’t tell, but I can trust you.

    Ok, time to make a friend – Let me send you right now the mp3 of this great new song the nice girl in Blodgets gave me. Cement your gains!

    On the way out of the ladies room, she’ll give you the kicker – There’s a lunch meeting next week in Gadgets where the Chief Cheese is looking for people who might be interested in new project X. You’ve never been down to Gadgets? Oh, you should go and meet the Chief Cheese.

    Bingo. Gossip is the means to real information in most workplaces.

  • Random Girl

    Have faith, Robin. Some people have learned to watch actions over words/gossip. I think productive alliances are formed when two people have the same demonstrated interest in a particular idea/project. Emphasis on ‘demonstrated’.

  • http://macroethics.blogspot.com nazgulnarsil

    I was personally surprised that even celebrity gossip sites like PerezHilton and TMZ have about 50% male readership.

    and there goes the rest of my faith in humanity.

    on a lighter note: I agree completely with frelkins. I think many “geeks” have experienced the workplace frustration of not receiving proper credit or being called in for situations that you should be handling because you don’t play the game.

  • http://rhollerith.com/blog Richard Hollerith

    Well said, frelkins.

  • http://silasx.blogspot.com Silas

    @frelkins: So why don’t they teach this in school? To keep the geeks down?

  • Doug S.

    Me, I tell everybody everything. I think I’m more of a “tattletale” than a “gossip”, though. 🙁

  • http://www.existenceiswonderful.com AnneC

    poke asked: “Is [socially awkward geeks’] rationalism a rationalization of social awkwardness or is their social awkwardness a product of their misguided rationalism?”

    Speaking from personal experience, I would say more usually the latter, but the former can certainly occur on occasion too, particularly when geeks start coming into contact with (and sometimes managing to form alliances with) other geeks.

    I’d wager most of us socially-awkward sorts are born with different neurological tendencies to begin with which cause us to selectively attend to different sorts of stimuli than many of those around us. E.g., in my case, I’ve never tended to specially prioritize “social” data over other kinds of data (raw sensory impressions, data about the behavior of objects, “folk physics” observations, etc.).

    For example: one thing I did for a while as a youngster involved sitting on the living room floor, flipping coins and writing down the “heads” or “tails” results, and then tallying them up (and getting really excited about the fact that they usually did come out close to 50/50 when flipping a penny over several trials of 100 times each).

    I played alone and did “experiments” (like the coin-flipping thing) as a youngster far more than I played with other children. Certainly I was socially rejected by a lot of my peers, but I wasn’t miserable all the time doing non-social things either. It was definitely not the case that I only found things like coin-flipping and science fiction interesting because I was not included in gossip circles.

  • John Maxwell

    I’m different than Eliezer, Dustin, and poke in that I’m interested in the lives of friends and associates… especially if they’re people I respect intellectually. But I’m not sure that any of the info they were talking is the same sort as described in the post.

  • frelkins

    @Silas

    “So why don’t they teach this in school? To keep the geeks down?”

    Were so many geeks control group victims of the great cosmic cloth monkey mother experiment? Let’s not go there. You came by your dyssemia honestly.

    But seriously, social intelligence can be learned.

    For my next trick, let me explain how you and absolutely any complete stranger can fall madly in love with each other in just 34 minutes. . .scientifically proven!

  • http://rhollerith.com/blog Richard Hollerith

    OK, let’s see it, frelkins.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    “So why don’t they teach this in school? To keep the geeks down?”

    I defended a weaker version of this theory here.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    I’m with Eliezer (I don’t even think to ask) and frelkins (my wife knows exactly how that works in cementing relationships). This leads to unusual conversations between us, in which I find out about my friends’ lives from her casual conversations, and I mention a co-worker’s race or gender after years of having discussed our mutual projects.

  • http://beyondrivalry.org M Wms

    This conversation reminds me of the chapter in Alain de Botton’s _Status Anxiety_ about Bohemians, who saw themselves as superior to the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie made the rules about who and what was successful and the Bohemians tried to redefine measures of success and failure. The Bohemians spent most of their time interacting with each other, to maintain confidence in their values, which were so at odds with the mainstream and therefore continually threatened.

    In this case, the mainstream are the gossiping public, whose lives are “boring” and whose minds are more concerned with social trivia than with “big ideas.” I bet there are there are many other analogous sets of ‘rivals’ through history and in various cultures, in which one group is seen as mainstream and oh-so-shallow by another group that can’t compete well socially playing by the rules of the mainstream. To identify oneself as the intellectual-who-just-doesn’t-think-in-terms-of-this-trivial-interpersonal-detail seems to strengthen one’s attachment to identity rather than help to one’s overcome bias …

  • frelkins

    a weaker version

    In that “weaker version,” Robin argues that nerds may have low “conniving skills.” That word choice seems to show a moral estimation of these relational, affliative skills – that is, they are despicable, not worth having, not worth displaying. The word conniving has a negative connotation. I wonder if Robin meant to imply that?

    This I find to be the true position of nerds in general. It’s not that they actually lack social and affliative (what Robin terms “conniving”) skills, since as Robin observes, they cooperate well together on engineering projects and demonstrate the capability for high trust. They know which open-source projects to join, for example, and how to tell who is reliable and who isn’t.

    Isn’t it rather that many nerds openly scorn and disdain affliative skills, taking great pains to present a non-affliative posture? They scream “defect!”

    But why would a rational person cooperate with someone who is putting a lot of effort into making clear that they intend to defect and betray? Obviously, the thing to do is defect on them first. We monkeys aren’t as stupid as we look.

    Thus I politely ask the OB community why so many nerds in general adopt this posture – and then complain that they get nowhere at work or in personal relationships? I don’t see the advantage here; indeed it seems frankly self-defeating. What am I missing?

    @Richard Hollerith

    let’s see it

    • choose a total stranger
    • discuss the most personal, intimate details of your lives with interest and engagement for 30 minutes in a gentle, confidential manner
    • gaze profoundly into the depths of each other’s eyes for 4 minutes after your conversation, without speaking a word, but don’t stare or seem scary, just let your eyes linger

    The biopsychologist Dr. Arthur Arun did this experiment – reportedly, 2 of the subjects actually got married a year afterwards, and several dated. The majority of the participants reported feeling a deep attraction to their experimental partners after the procedure.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    frelkins, my “conniving” connotation was negative, but hardly “despicable.” The fact that nerds cooperate well together does not show they are good at conniving. The can and do cooperate just fine; they just can’t as easily monitor and deter the defections of others. You previous comment with gossip examples was excellent, btw.

    M, yes the Bohemian analogy seems apt.

    Anne, your history isn’t obviously more likely given one theory than the other.

  • http://rhollerith.com/blog Richard Hollerith

    Thanks, frelkins. Parenthetically I recently had a conversation in which I told a couple of complete strangers shockingly intimate details of my life. Hmm. (Till then my only deep discussions of the subject of the conversation were online, and I was taken by surprise by the sudden absence of a chance to re-read and edit before hitting the “Post” or “Send” button.)

    If I were not focused on personal projects and on the long-term consequences of a certain technology we are not supposed to be discussing on these pages for the next couple of months, I would be conducting trials of an idea of mine for making organizations less bureaucratic and truer to their stated mission. My idea, which I call “voluntary privacy reduction”, has the incidental effect of eliminating the personal informational advantages of the affiliative, “gossip” way of relating.

    In particular, in voluntary privacy reduction, there is no convenient reliable way for two people to share substantial amounts of information without that information becoming readily available to many other people through the organization’s information-technology systems. There is a rule for example against even having a conversation in the ladies’ room. So any nerd interested in increasing his visibility inside the organization or in changing projects can use the information technology available to all members of the organization to learn about the lunch meeting next week in Gadgets where the Chief Cheese is looking for people who might be interested in new project X. The nerd can do so without going through the affiliative steps you illustrated (establishing common ground with another employee about the snotty girl in Widgets, about the nice girl in Blodgets, trading favors, sharing small pleasures).

  • Douglas Knight

    The Bohemians probably spent just as much time gossiping as the Bourgeoisie, just about different status-effecting items. Perhaps they needed more gossip time, to reinforce their version of status. [I’m not sure to what extent this agrees with M Wms’s take.] Perhaps nerds have completely different social systems, but academics do not.

    Robin,
    Does recounting your personal history as an academic mean that you did not have the same experience in your previous career? Was it a nerdy environment where people didn’t gossip?

  • Will Pearson

    Frelkins wrote: “”Malicious” gossip is crucial to ensure you and the person to whom you’re gossiping have the same “enemies.” You both despise that snotty girl in Widgets!”

    This puts me off some forms of gossip and gossipers immediately. I’m not going to trust someone who despises people at the drop of a hat! Because they might decide to dislike me for whatever reason, so I don’t want to trust them. People who work/live together should default cooperate with each other, it just makes life easier and for a nicer environment.

    On the other hand I really enjoy talking to people about their plans, their hopes and dreams. Even if they are not my particular interests or important in the greater scheme of things.

  • http://silasx.blogspot.com Silas

    @frelkins: Thus I politely ask the OB community why so many nerds in general adopt this posture – and then complain that they get nowhere at work or in personal relationships? I don’t see the advantage here; indeed it seems frankly self-defeating. What am I missing?

    What you’re missing is that they don’t see the connection between the two, how adopting that posture is read by other people, and what implications it has for their access to other opportunities. Heck, I doubt even socially-adept people see it either. Rather, they do what comes naturally to them, what is intrinsically enjoyable to them, what they would do irrespective of these benefits, and it happens to work well for them.

    Seriously, what is it with this tendency to act like socially-inept are making a deliberate, conscious trade-off in the foolish things they do, as if they somehow deserve what they get? Whatever happened to “assume stupidity before malice”?

    This is also why I’m skeptical of your claim about falling in love, at least as you presented it here. Your instructions rely crucially on several assumptions about how to conduct the interaction which may not be shared by socially inept people. I can 100% guarantee that if I honestly and confidently attempted the steps you listed, I would be kicked out of the venue on the grounds that, “omg, do you know what that weirdo just started talking to me about?” And certainly, the scientific experiment filtered for more individual characteristics and had a more specific protocol than you gave.

    Also, frelkins, despite your very clear, thorough justification for not “going there”, I’m going to ask again: If indeed learning how to gossip is as important as math and reading (as I’m realizing all too late in life), why isn’t there a mandatory class in school for it? Is it because they think anyone that doesn’t figure it out on their own, somehow “deserves” to be limited? Would they ever propose doing that to people who don’t learn math on their own?

    If there’s a better explanation, I don’t know what it is. I have always been willing to help others along in science, math, and technical areas, but not once has anyone ever pulled me aside to help me in terms of social skills. Rather, my experience seems to be that the reaction is to spread horrible rumors about me and expel me from the group on a flimsy pretense and not even tell me about the rumors or make even a token effort to identify the social deficiencies that would in any way benefit me.

    Re: frelkins’s gossip examples, I know that workplaces can get in big trouble for organizing these after hours events that affect employment but do it in a way that isn’t open to everyone. If this is still common, that tells me that:

    a) The whole pretense of prohibiting it is just another way to make them harder to learn about these events, and
    b) it’s an example of discrimination. Imagine if you only invited white people. (And there are cases like this that didn’t go well for the employer.) And please don’t work up an elaborate reason why it’s not really discrimination because there’s a valid reason to exclude socially inept people. We all know how well it would go over if you tried the excuse of, “Whoa whoa whoa, I’m not discriminating against black people. It’s just that having blacks work for me would make the clients/customers uneasy…”

    Btw, I agre that it’s possible to learn social intelligence … just not from any instructor that has society’s endorsement for what he does.

  • floccina

    But gossip hes been discouraged for a long time:

    Proverbs 11:13 A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.

    Proverbs 16:28 A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close
    friends.

    Proverbs 17:9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the
    matter separates close friends.

    Proverbs 18:8 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a
    man’s inmost parts.

    Proverbs 20:19 A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.

    Proverbs 26:20 Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.

    ! Tim 5:13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.

  • mjgeddes

    Irony: People professing to have no interest in gossip, only to spend much of their time gossiping away on Internet messageboards.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p011168a11ba1970c/ Caleb Zhang

    No one here has mentioned Gossip, Gromming and the Evolution of Language by Robin Dunbar. Guess I’ll be the 1st to mention it. Highly recommended book.

  • Constant

    But this appears to be a gender myth: research suggests that men gossip at least as much, if not more, than women.

    Whenever I see a claim like this I think “are you sure?” A little googling digs up studies that were based on college students. College students may easily fail to be representative of the the population as a whole, especially in the area of social interaction. An example quote from one article on gossip research:

    She claims that among the surprises thrown up by her research conducted on 84 Belgian undergraduate volunteers is the fact that people in relationships are just as keen to discuss potential romantic partners as single men and women.

    This specific finding seems on the face of it to be much more likely to be true of undergraduates than of adults generally. Older adults tend to truthfully call their romantic partners such things as “the mother of my children” and are in much less of a position to easily shift into new relationships, as compared to undergraduates, and consequently might be less inclined to discuss potential romantic partners. Similar points can be raised more generally about the tendency to gossip.

  • http://www.thethoughfulape.blogspot.com Jay Thomas

    I really don’t think that gossiping is purely or even primarily about jockeying for social prestige and the formation of alliances. For people who enjoy gossip it is a an enjoyable activity and an end in itself.

    Look at the popularity of soaps like General Hospital and Days of our Lives. The characters on such shows basically exist for the sole purpose of generating artificial gossip. Fans of these shows like to immerse themselves in the convoluted details of these characters tangled love lives. They invest time and mental energy to do so in spite the absence of any social reward.

    It stands to reason that if people can be titillated by the intimate details of imaginary lives, then those of real people will be more thrilling still.

    Can gossip be a potent weapon in playing office politics and establishing social pecking orders? Undoubtedly it can but I would question how often this is the motive. I suspect that most gossip is not about such goals in the same way that most sex is not about having children.

  • Steven

    Reading all of these comments on gossip seems to point to the real problem with gossip; it can cause great pain and ruin peoples lives. I have been gossiped about for two years where I am now living basically because I will not gossip and I have asserted myself as an individual and not a member of “The Group”. I believe that much of gossip is about conformity. The choice here as it seems to me is to sell your ideals short or remain strong and suffer the consequences.