Fact or Myth: Could The Effects of Gossip Make You A Better Person?

This is a FACT.

The overall effects of gossip are usually considered negative, inflammatory and reputation-destroying. But new evidence from several studies suggests gossip may actually have a positive place in our lives.

Policing Ourselves

Without supervision, people can be selfish and uncooperative.

According to results published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the knowledge that your actions could be discovered and/or discussed openly among your peers stops most of us from doing things we would otherwise consider doing if we knew we could get away with it.

The University of Amsterdam researchers Gerben Van Kleef and Bianca Beersma found that those people who thought no one would know behaved less honestly and more selfishly while those who believed their activities would be known to others in the study behaved less selfishly and more fairly.

There are even certain stress-relieving qualities of gossip. Robb Willer, psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, explains, “Gossip gets a bad rap, but we’re finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order.

Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behaves badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip.”

The Effects of Gossip Relieve Stress

In the UC Berkeley study, the participants interacted with one another during a game in which one person was instructed to cheat. Those that witnessed the cheating exhibited elevated heart rates and other signs of stress until they warned others of the cheater.

Matthew Feinberg, social psychologist had this to say, “We shouldn’t feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of.” This form of gossip is known as “prosocial” – different from cyber-bullying and celebrity gossip magazines that speculate weekly about various famous people. effects of gossip

“A central reason for engaging in gossip was to help others out — more so than just to talk trash about the selfish individual,” added Feinberg.

Effects of Gossip in the Office – A Boost for Worker Morale

Georgia Tech conducted a study based on the emails taken from the Enron Corporation after its bankruptcy. They discovered that almost 15% of office messages involved gossip – defined as messages involving someone not included in the list of email recipients. This is a form of communication that is becoming more prevalent in the modern era.

“Gossip gets a bad rap,” said Eric Gilbert, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech. “When you say ‘gossip,’ most people immediately have a negative interpretation, but it’s actually a very important form of communication.

Even tiny bits of information, like ‘Eric said he’d be late for this meeting,’ add up; after just a few of those messages, you start to get an impression that Eric is a late person.

Gossip is generally how we know what we know about each other, and for this study we viewed it simply as a means to share social information.”

Though many emails are neutral, there are more than twice as many negative emails about gossip as positive ones.

“A lot of the emails we’re looking at were from the rank-and-file, and it was the Enron CEOs – a tiny fraction of its employee population – who initiated and directed the actions that brought the company down. The average employee had no idea what was going on.”

The effects of gossip may be more far-reaching than we ever would have guessed – making us more socially responsible, honest and willing to be fair.

In a world where almost every piece of technology can be hacked and identities are stolen daily – this can serve as a warning to those inclined to behave badly.

Or perhaps we should just do the right thing – whether someone is able to find out about it or not.