Why do people gossip?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on my blog. Work has been really busy these past couple of months, but hopefully I’ll get back to blogging at least twice a week from now on. Today’s post is about something that has been on my mind for a while: gossiping.

A couple of years ago a study came out that revealed gossiping is healthy. Gossiping apparently releases a hormone, oxytocin, which makes us feel closer in a social interaction. As a communication researcher, I was intrigued by this study (you can find it here). I started to monitor my own gossiping behavior to see how it made me feel.

Gossiping: a bad habit that makes us feel good

I’m a true believer in karma – you receive what you send out. I’m also a believer in the power of energy; if you’re constantly sending out negative energy, that’s what you will get back. So the question on my mind is: does gossiping send out negative energy? Does it make us feel bad or good? And if it makes us feel good, does that eliminate the fact that it’s essentially a ‘bad habit’?

If that were true, we could do whatever we wanted as long as it made us feel good. Wouldn’t that weaken the power of karma? For those of you who believe in karma, this is bad news. It means that we can live our lives doing whatever we want, as long as we feel good doing it. And that includes hurting others. That doesn’t sound right.

Why do people gossip?

Back to the topic of this blogpost: gossiping. I think we all gossip every now and then. I do too. And in monitoring my own social conversations for a while I noticed that there are different types of gossip. There is mild, positive gossip; conversations revolving around someone you and your conversation partner both know in an attempt to bond. This type of gossiping isn’t really about the third person. It’s really an attempt to find common ground in a conversation to feel closer to the person you’re talking to. The second type of gossip is more malicious. This type of gossip is to make yourself feel better by bringing someone else down.

Spreading lies, fake stories or criticizing someone you know to your friends or colleagues is never OK in my book. And this can’t possibly make you feel good. The first type of gossiping is more social, while the second is much more strategic. It’s either done to get ahead, make someone like you more or even make you like yourself more. Whatever the reasons, I am pretty sure the researchers at the University of Pavia, who conducted the study I refer to above, did not refer to this type of gossiping. If you ask me, gossiping with the purpose of bringing others down is anything but healthy.

Human beings are storytellers

Luckily I rarely come across people who gossip maliciously in my day-to-day life. Most gossip is harmless (“Did you know X is leaving our department?”) and a means to start or maintain a conversation and feel closer to the person you’re talking to. In that sense, I do believe gossiping can be healthy. We’re social beings after all – we can only handle so much weather-related talk. It’s much more interesting to discuss other people’s life choices. Right?



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