Gossip relieves stress

spill it

Gossip has all kinds of negative connotations. In some societies, it is even considered sinful. Idle chatter that undermines trust and damages reputations, that causes spreads falsehoods and degrades the underpinnings of society… has an upside? A new study suggests that gossip may help maintain social order by keeping bad behavior in check. And, it actually lowers stress.

“Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip,” explained co-author and social psychologist Robb Willer.

Willer and his colleagues discovered a therapeutic effect to gossip. When people in the study group witness someone behaving badly, their heart rates rose. When they then discussed what they had seen with others, their heart rates lessened.

The prosocial group

During the study, the researchers focused on a “prosocial” group. The prosocial group warns others about untrustworthy or dishonest actions by other people. This is a specific type of gossip as opposed to voyeuristic rumor-mongering.

For the experiment, they set up a card game where players were cheating and hoarding points. The group observing the play became anxious and their heart rates rose. The observers were allowed to pass a note to the player being cheated when the partners in the game were switched.

This was an opportunity to warn the new players about the cheating behavior of the remaining players. They reported relief at being able to tell or to warn about the cheating behavior. “Passing on the gossip note ameliorated their negative feelings and tempered their frustration,” said Willer.

Source: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, MedicalNewsToday


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