It’s Research Wednesday! Where I reveal the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.
“After criticizing other people, gossipers’ positive emotions were reduced by 16 percent and negative emotions increased 34 percent.” (“Is Gossip Good for You,” New York Times, 10/8/2010)
I love to gossip. I do. I don’t want to love to gossip, but given how much I engage in the activity, reason would have that I must enjoy it.
According to the latest research, some gossip has positive effects. When you gab with a girlfriend about how great someone else is, and shower the unknowing party in compliments, positive emotions are raised 3 percent, negative emotions are reduced 6 percent, and self-esteem is raised 5 percent.
But, seriously, how often do people engage in complimentary gossip?
If what I know is reality than the majority of time people engage in gossip they’re not saying anything they’d want to share with the group.
The examples of “positive gossip” in this study are sayings like “So-and-so’s husband is adorable” instead of “she married that lout?”
I’ve certainly shared those exchanges, musing over how cute someone’s baby is or what a fabulous catch her husband was. But I’m not sure that actually qualifies as gossip. According to my dictionary, gossip is “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”
So, “her husband is adorable” is not gossip. “I hear her husband’s a cheater,” is.
Despite getting constantly caught up in the rumor mill, I buy the research that says our negative emotions increase by more than a third when we trash talk. No matter how much I hope to vent or get something off my chest, I always feel worse after a bitchfest. Criticizing someone else isn’t going to change my own circumstances, after all. It’s not freeing; It’s exhausting. And in the end, above all else, it makes me feel like an ass.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess this is true of more people than just myself. And yet we keep it up. We feel worse after spreading negative gossip, but most of us can’t help it. We engage. Maybe not often (if you’re a better person than I), but it’s the rare person who can swear off the dish altogether. Why?
The answer lies in this sentence of the aforementioned New York Times article: “Whether kind or cruel, gossip was associated with a greater sense of social support for the perpetuator.” The mere act of gossiping—regardless of the content—makes us feel more connected. We get to exchange information with another party, and the mere act of this exchange—especially the exchange of gossip, which is often billed as “secret” even though everyone’s talking about it—makes us feel like part of the in group. We’re privy to something exclusive. We belong.
Moral of the story: Gossip is bad but we do it anyway. (Side note: The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin just posted an interesting video about her attempt to stop gossiping.) Do you gossip? Are you more of a positive or negative gossiper? Why is gossip so addictive, when it usually makes us feel bad about ourselves and does nothing to really strengthen our friendships? Come on, be honest. No judgment here!