Social Norms

Gossip Gets A Bad Rap, But It's Actually Pretty Good For You

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Did you hear? Researchers have, for a long time now, been studying gossip and its surprisingly positive effects on the human psyche. It turns out that spilling the beans can have a lot of social benefits. Hey, you can't fight evolution.

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The Latest Research

How Dishing The Dirt Strengthens Ties

Researchers at the University of Pavia have shown how gossiping can increase levels of the hormone oxytocin, often called the pleasure hormone (and, as a Broadly article explains, the same hormone that is released during sex and with mother-child bonding). Their study, published in March 2017 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, measured hormone levels of its 22 female college participants both before and after a planted actress led a discussion about a "recent unplanned pregnancy on campus." Compared to the control group, members who heard gossip had higher levels of oxytocin in their saliva swab after the gab sesh.

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Gossip "brings people closer together than they would be if they were talking about some impersonal topic," lead author Dr. Natascia Brondina told Broadly. "And it can help us figure out who to trust, because we can hear information about people we don't know from trusted sources." Researchers speculate that gossip has other important social functions as well, including "establishing group rules, punishing trespassers, exercising social influence through reputational systems, and developing and strengthening social bonds," the authors write in their study.

Related: The Hedgehog Dilemma Describes The Challenges Of Human Intimacy

When Gossip is Good

But Brondina's study is hardly the first establishing the social benefits of gossiping. Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar also found that up to two-thirds of all conversations are spent on social topics. Another study found that gossiping helps individuals learn about the norms of the group — in other words, what counts as acceptable behavior. Sarah Wert, a psychologist at Yale, even told the New York Times that "not participating in gossip at some level can be unhealthy, and abnormal." Not that we're encouraging spreading rumors...

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