Dirty Little Secrets

Gossip is more than just idle chitchat. Why we love to spread rumors—and how to do it right.

Can Gossip Be Good?

A new Berkeley study suggests some forms of gossip as prosocial

Let's be honest, television shows such as Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, and E! News do one thing exceptionally well. Gossip. From celebrity break-up news to baby predictions, entire shows and let's not forget websites are devoted to dishing it like no other. One can certainly imagine the toll of such gossip of the affected parties. Many times privacy, reputations, and well-being can be shattered from the stories that arise. However, a new study to be released in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by UC Berkeley psychologists suggests that some forms of gossip can actually be good!

Prosocial gossip refers to the idea of forms of gossip that can contribute to maintaining the social order at large. In the series of 4 studies that were conducted, study participants engaged in economics trust games in which they were able to simulate scenarios where some players were cheating. Results of the studies indicated that when participants witnessed the possible exploitation of fellow players, they were more likely to share the social information with those who may be vulnerable. Furthermore, doing so alleviated negative affect. Those with the most prosocial orientations were most likely to provide such information to others, even if at a cost to themselves. Perhaps most interesting are the findings that indicate those who gossip may deter selfishness, with their gossip promoting cooperation. According to co-author, Feinberg, "a central reason for engaging in gossip was to help others out-more so than just to trash talk about the selfish individual." He explains that in his studies, people would even go so far as to pay money to gossip when they could not affect the selfish person's outcome.

The overall results of the studies may come to suggest that some forms of gossip can essentially play a role in maintaining societal justice. Hence, while trying to determine whether or not Kim Kardashian's wedding was a sham may not fit into this domain, other forms of gossip may actually benefit society at large. For more information on the study, see the press release here.

Dirty Little Secrets