While we were all taught not to gossip about people, a recent study believes the act of collectively trashing people is a way to build friendships.
According to an old Turkish proverb, who gossips to you, will gossip of you. However, there’s a modern school of thought that believes gossip is the social glue that holds us all together.
As a group of neuroscientists from Dartmouth College put it, “having conversations about others with a third party and learning about people’s experiences helps cement social connections and broadens the mind.”
Indeed, one of the researchers claimed that gossip is a valuable tool when building friendships, as it “involves trust and facilitates a social bond that is reinforced as further communication takes place.”
However, the group put a caveat on their findings, suggesting that our gossiping should always be contextualised and not dip to “baseless trash talk”.
According to the paper, the team’s findings on the role of gossip are consistent with creating a ‘shared reality’.
“Gossip can be useful because it helps people learn through the experiences of others, while enabling them to become closer to each other,” the researchers claimed.
The above echoes an earlier study, one that discovered that hearing gossip actually has an effect on our emotions.
The study measured how our brains process gossip – both about celebrities and about individuals and their friends – participants were asked to rate their online emotional states.
Their ratings suggested that people were happier to hear positive gossip, and “more annoyed” when they heard negative gossip about themselves than about their friends or celebrities.
Using MRI scanning, researchers were also able to see the physiological effects of hearing gossip.
This showed that the same dissociated neural networks were involved in processing positive gossip about oneself and negative gossip about celebrities.
While participants may have said they were not happy to hear negative gossip about celebrities, the researchers describe “significantly enhanced neural activity” in the reward system on listening, suggesting they, in fact, were amused.
So why the alleged disapproval?
By way of enhanced functional connectivity, the prefrontal executive control network regulates the reward system by giving explicit pleasure ratings according to social norm compliance, rather than natural emotions.
Meaning that even our feelings conform to social standards.
So the next time you catch yourself locked into Mario Lopez’s gaze, remember: you like it a lot more than you think you do.