Gossip is often an act treated with disdain or hostility, but it can actually prove to be quite useful for small groups. Popularly, gossip is defined as a way of trash-talking someone that is not present, but scientists define gossip as communication about a person who isn’t present in a way that involves evaluation of that person.
Moreover, this type of informal communication is crucial for sharing information. Scientists say that gossip is necessary for social cooperation and that it is largely this kind of talk that creates social bonds and clarifies social norms. Or as it is available in some special cases, through gossip a valuable piece of information that could possible be endangering people can reach their ears much faster than by reporting the said fact to authorities.
Even though the common assumption is that gossip is negative, it actually tends to be neutral most of the times, according to a British study. Another thing that needs to be clarified is the distinction between gossip and rumor, gossip tends to be more inner-circle than rumor, so “gossip isn’t about things that are happening in an environment. It’s about people,” as explained by Jennifer Cole, a social psychology lecturer from Manchester Metropolitan University. Gossip tends to be true while “if it’s misinformation, it would be better characterized as rumor,” according to Sally Farley, a psychology professor at the University of Baltimore.
Moreover, contrary to popular belief that women gossip more than men, it seems that that is not the case, however, men and women do gossip differently. While male gossip is more likely to be self-promoting, and considered “exchanging information” or “keeping in touch”, women gossiping tend to make it more entertaining with lots of details and an animated tone.
There’s another type of gossip that many people engage in, and that is celebrity gossip. This kind of gossip has a bigger purpose than just information exchange or entertainment; it is also a way to test the waters of different identities and affiliations, especially if they are marginalized. Andrea McDonnell, a communication and media professor at Emmanuel College in Boston says:
“I definitely see celebrity gossip as a kind of gateway to/entry point for divulging personal information that people might not feel comfortable doing if they didn’t have that lead-in.”
This type of gossip can be both good and bad, it can be false or ill-intended gossip that can lead to ruined reputations and violence on one hand or on the other it can lead to women warning each other informally against the abusive men who control media empires, like in the case of the #MeToo movement. An extremely problematic aspect of this type of gossip is that some people tend to believe it over even their own direct observation, partly because it comes from people we know, the fact that we’re social creatures makes us easily manipulated, but according to Farley:
“Smart people realize that people who gossip frequently are likely to also be gossiping about them, and that enters into their perception. And especially if the information they’re relaying is primarily negative, people do not think very positively about others who spend a lot of time talking trash. So, in short, people respect others who are selective about their use of gossip.”
Psychologists also suggest following four main principles when gossiping: keep gossip secret, make it useful, don’t tell lies, and connect with listeners. Avoiding anonymity might also help, while understanding the emotional basis of gossip and misinformation are also important.