Fear Of Whispers Keeps Us In Check

Fear Of Whispers Keeps Us In Check

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.

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We’re Hardwired To Gossip

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.

Social Isolation

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.

Celebrity Gossip's Purpose

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.

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The broader view of gossip

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.

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Gossiping

It is talking about a person who isn’t present. It's not necessarily about spreading malicious rumors or embarrassing stories, just sharing information.

Research indicates that the typical person spends about 52 minutes per day gossiping. But most of it is just sharing information about the people in their lives with those around them.

Policing Behavior

Gossiping is a good way of identifying friends and foes. We are either judge, jury or executioner when we gossip — and we use the information we cull to keep immoral influences at arm's length.

Research indicates that people who witnessed immoral behavior feel better after gossiping about it to people who might have been affected. They are helping to spread the news, and therefore raise the possibility that the person in question is punished.

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