New Research Suggests That Gossip May Actually Be Good, Offering A Social Advantage That Helps People Connect With More “Cooperative” Individuals

Jacob Lund - - illustrative purposes only, not the actual people

As a child, you were probably told that gossip was wrong, that if you wouldn’t say something to an individual’s face, you just shouldn’t say it at all.

But, an intriguing new study conducted by researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Stanford suggests that gossipers may not be the worst thing for social groups. Rather, the research highlighted how “spilling the tea” sometimes could actually have benefits.

According to the researchers, gossip – or the exchange of personal information about people who aren’t present – offers a social advantage, particularly in spreading info about individuals’ reputations. This enables those who hear the gossip to associate with more “cooperative” people as opposed to “selfish” people.

“When people are interested in knowing if someone is a good person to interact with, if they can get information from gossiping – assuming the information is honest – that can be a very useful thing to have,” said Dana Nau, the study’s co-author.

The study’s findings are the result of a computer simulation designed to address a long-held question in social psychology: Why has gossip become such a popular and widespread activity regardless of age, gender, and culture?

In a previous study, the team found that people spend about one hour each day discussing others – which represents a significant amount of day-to-day life. That’s why the researchers felt compelled to delve into this topic further.

Other past research has suggested that gossip may be able to bond large groups and encourage cooperation. However, it’s still unknown what benefits the individuals who gossip actually receive from these interactions.

“This has been a real puzzle. It’s unclear why gossiping, which requires considerable time and energy, evolved as an adaptive strategy at all,” said Michele Gelfand, another co-author of the study.

So, for their latest study, the researchers used an evolutionary game theory model that simulates human decision-making. By integrating principles from evolutionary biology and game theory, the researchers could observe how their virtual study subjects – known as “agents” – interacted and adjusted their strategies to gain rewards.

Jacob Lund – – illustrative purposes only, not the actual people

Sign up for Chip Chick’s newsletter and get stories like this delivered to your inbox.

1 of 3