The gossip police
Do you ever gossip? Are you feeling a little guilty at just thinking about having sometimes shared some titillating information about someone behind their back? Well, wind back the guilt-feel folks, research is showing that gossiping is actually serving a valuable social function.
Everyone knows the power and popularity of gossip but to see exactly what it does researchers connected volunteers to heart rate monitors. When they played a game and saw another player cheating their heart rates increased. They then had the opportunity to warn another honest player by way of a â€œgossip noteâ€ that their opponent was cheating. When they did this their heart rate dropped. So it seems that using gossip to warn another person serves to protect the other person as well as reducing your own stress.
Another group of people undertook tests to establish their levels of altruism and co-operativeness. These people then watched the first group playing their game. Those who scored high on altruism and sociability reported feeling more frustrated by the cheating. These highly altruistic people were more likely to gossip because it would help others to know if people were behaving badly.
In a third experiment people were forced to pay cash (from their pay for being in the experiment) to use their â€œgossip notesâ€ to give warnings about someone elseâ€™s behaviour. People were still willing to spend that money in order to give a gossipy warning. Additionally, when participants were warned before the games began that gossip notes would be used, there was much less cheating behaviour.
Gossip then, serves an important social function. It is a way of exerting social pressure that minimises bad behaviour and reduces your own stress levels at the same time.
There you are gossipers; you are part of a social police force that monitors good behaviour. The only thing now is to design the uniforms. Surely some sort of insignia depicting flapping ears and an open mouth is mandatory but as for colourâ€¦.maybe a deep purple to suggest the noble purpose that gossip serves?