Did you hear? Gossiping can be good for your health.
A new study in October's edition of "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin" (paywall) showed that sharing juicy stories with others helps people better understand their social environment.
"People who participate in gossip can infer things about themselves and evaluate themselves without having to test everything directly," explained the study's lead author, Elena Martinescu, to Today.com.
In other words, people absorb positive and negative things said about others, and adjust their behavior accordingly.
Today.com reported that the new research was drawn from several separate experiments in which participants were asked to describe their reaction to gossip in various contexts, such as a group project in a college class.
"The responses suggested that people did indeed use gossip as a way of calibrating their behavior. Positive gossip led people to work on self-improvement. Fallout from negative gossip was more complicated. Some looked at it as a boost to their own egos, while some others took it as a warning" of what not to do in the future, Today.com reported.
One interesting aspect of the study were the differences observed along gender lines, Express reported.
"Women who gossip negatively have 'higher protection concerns,' possibly because they are worried that they might … suffer a similar fate as the one being talked about. Men hearing positive talk about someone else become 'fearful,' maybe because they feel threatened," the article said.
As The Atlantic reported in an article exploring various studies on the practice, "gossiping is a behavior that has long been frowned upon."
Talking behind other people's backs is regularly described as a character flaw, even if few can resist joining in a group gossip session.
The October study is not the first to highlight the practice's potential health benefits.
Freakonomics Radio Podcast, hosted by the same men behind the successful "Freakonomics" book series, produced a show in January on the benefits of gossip, highlighting how gossiping habits vary between the rich and the poor.
Freakonomics interviewed Nick Denton, the publisher of Gawker, who explained his sense that everyone gossips, even if the content of conversations varies greatly.
"There's no difference between (gossip about friends and family) and power gossip, and money gossip," Denton said.
The recent trend toward using research to defend gossiping does not mean that the practice is applauded across the board. After all, it's hard not to "feel just a little bit soiled from the experience," Psychology Today reported.
In its gossip coverage, Psychology Today emphasized an idea that many recent studies ignored or glossed over: gossip is predominately negative.
"This often-slanderous aspect of gossip is one reason it has been frequently condemned in religious and ethical writings," the article noted, exploring Christian and Jewish teachings on the topic. For example, Exodus 23 begins, "Thou shalt not raise a false report."
The takeaway of all the various gossip studies, according to Psychology Today, is that the impacts of a gossip session are often a mixed bag. "Gossip does bind people together — but it also breaks them apart."
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