Sharing secrets is one way people bond, so avoiding gossip may lead to social isolation. Someone skillful at gossip can be socially informed and have a good rapport with others. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t gossip may become an outsider, neither trusted nor accepted by the group.
Gossip also helps to integrate newcomers into groups by exposing group norms and values.
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Our prehistoric ancestors lived in small intimate groups. To survive they needed to cooperate with in-group members while also competing for mates and limited resources.
It was fundamental to know who was reliable, trustworthy, a cheater, a good mate and so on. To that end, an intense interest in the private dealings of others was beneficial and favored by natural selection.
The awareness that others are likely talking about us can keep us in line. Among a group of friends or coworkers, the threat of becoming the target of gossip can deter “free-riders” and cheaters.
Our interest in celebrities may feed off of this thirst for learning life strategies.
Our fixation on celebrities is reflective of an innate interest in the lives of others and an artificial sense of familiarity which tricks us into thinking they are important to us. But they also serve as “common friends” that serves as a safe subject of gossip to facilitate interaction between people.
Gossip is a key social skill that helps ensure our healthy integration into human society.
Gossiping with somebody is a way of bringing people closer within your social group, checking that they share your views, and bonding over shared positions and judgements. The people you gossip most with, therefore, are the ones with whom you're the closest.
All humans partake in gossip in some form. Everyone talks about other people. One study found that male participants spent 55% of conversation time and female participants 67% conversation time on socially relevant topics.
People like to think of gossip as the same as malicious rumours, but researchers define gossip as talking about people who aren't present.