Get the 'goss' on gossip

Monday, 27 November, 2017

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If you're worried about being perceived as a gossip, then you can relax. University of Queensland researchers have found that, actually, gossiping can help a person develop a better understanding of their society’s expected behaviours.

Dr Kim Peters and Professor Jolanda Jetten of the UQ School of Psychology have studied gossiping about deviant actions and found that it provides people with a clearer sense of what is typical and appropriate behaviour.

Professor Jetten said gossip has a wider range of social consequences, as can be seen in the current sexual harassment allegations in the American entertainment industry and the resulting #MeToo stories on social media.

“Gossiping allows us to monitor the reputations of other people, and by learning about their behaviours we are in a better position to decide whether we should, or should not, trust them in the future,” Professor Jetten said.

“The gossip about Harvey Weinstein has undoubtedly had negative consequences for him, such as the loss of his job and expulsion from a number of prestigious film societies, but it may also have had consequences for all of us who participated in it.

“Among other things, there seems to be an emerging consensus that sexual harassment at work is more common than many of us may have supposed and that it should definitely not be tolerated.

“When investigating the consequences of deviance for social change, it is important to consider the essential role that our daily gossip may play.”

However, the authors are not suggesting that all gossiping is beneficial; it can also be harmful and contribute to bullying and harassment. 

The study is published in Psychological Science.

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