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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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 closefriends.

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

Proverbs 18:8 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to aman'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.

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@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, andb) 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.

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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.

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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?

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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).

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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.

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"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"

<ul><li>choose a total stranger</li><li>discuss the most personal, intimate details of your lives with interest and engagement for 30 minutes in a gentle, confidential manner</li><li>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</li></ul>

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.

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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 ...

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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.

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"So why don't they teach this in school? To keep the geeks down?"

I defended a weaker version of this theory here.

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