The Psychology Behind Gossip

The Psychology Behind Gossip


The Psychology Behind Gossip

No matter how much we renounce this fact, sometimes we tend to gossip about others, their behaviours, actions and whatnot. We may try and control the gossiping habit at times, but mostly we tend to resort to gossiping. Gossip can be considered a ubiquitous aspect of social interaction among human beings. The most interesting fact about gossiping is that it transcends all historical, cultural and geographical boundaries and is present in all cultures and societies around the globe. Even though it is highly prevalent across cultures, it is often regarded with disdain and is treated with a negative connotation to it.

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However, there are a plethora of psychological reasons as to why people gossip or take their time off through such a form of interaction. Gossip usually focuses on the negative aspects of a person’s personal appearance, achievements, or behaviours. When people debate facts about celebrities or other people highlighted in tabloids or social media, this is a less benign version of gossip.

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Peng et al. (2015) studied men’s and women’s brain imaging while listening to favourable and bad talk about themselves and celebrities. People who heard either positive or negative gossip about themselves demonstrated increased activity in the prefrontal cortex of their brains, which aids in the navigation of complicated social behaviours. This reaction occurred when the subjects were exposed to unfavourable rumours in general. He also discovered that negative celebrity rumours triggered the caudate nucleus, the brain’s reward centre, demonstrating how sensational celebrity controversies spark people’s curiosity. The study found that when people heard positive chatter about themselves, they felt happy, and when they heard negative gossip about themselves, they felt more irritated.

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But Why People Gossip?

1. Social bonding

One of the most pivotal duties carried out by gossiping in the human psyche is its important role in social bonding. Being social beings, gossiping plays an important role as an inevitable mechanism in strengthening social connections. Gossiping is indeed a mechanism for sharing information about other individuals, especially in a group setting, and thus nurtures a sense of camaraderie among individuals within the group setting. It even acts as that cement that keeps people together within a social group and reinforces the group dynamics that act between the group members. Unfortunately, extreme levels of gossiping tend to develop ingroup and out-group feelings within individuals.

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2. Information Exchange

One of the most underrated functions of gossiping is to share and exchange information. Gossiping provides invaluable insights into people’s behaviours, actions, and even their implicit and explicit intentions. This information not only provides us updates as to what is occurring around us but also becomes a way to update ourselves about ways in which we can navigate our social structures and social hierarchies.

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3. Social comparison

Gossiping psychologically provides a fertile platform for people to engage in social comparison. Gossiping mostly involves conversations about the various behaviours, actions, successes, failures or even intentions of other individuals and these details that one receives through such conversations can breed social comparison between the individuals. This can also turn out to be quite toxic a practice if it is done frequently and can affect one’s mental health adversely.

4. Catharsis

Gossip inevitably becomes an important form of catharsis. It provides a platform for people to talk about all the bottled-up emotions within them and express themselves freely if they are with a trusted group of individuals. Conversing about other people’s actions, conversations, and behaviours can act out as an outlet for bottled-up jealousy, resentment or even admiration and love that one may nurture against or for the concerned person. This process can also act as a source of entertainment and can be considered an activity that could potentially divert us from our everyday concerns.

5. Control

Gossip, psychologically, has the potential to maintain social norms and make sure that people conform to the norms and ideals laid by the collectives. It becomes a catalyst that has the potential to shape people’s behaviours and actions and ensure that they do not divert from the collective morals and needs that society has structured for itself. People are brought up nurturing a fear of being a subject to people’s gossip and this may work well in ensuring their conformity to societal norms.

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6. A sense of power

Some people engage in gossiping in order to exact revenge. People who despise someone will usually seek out others who share their dislike for the same person. Subsequent conversations revolve around negative assessments of that person. The gossiper’s disdain for the target is affirmed, which excuses cruel behaviour. Most individuals, on the other hand, gossip because it gives them a false sense of power.

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The exact psychology behind the act of gossiping is multifaceted and multidimensional as mentioned above in detail. Gossiping, indeed has its own positive effects on one’s well-being but these positive effects do not cancel out the fact it poses danger too. It can cause reputational damage and perpetuation of false information. Understanding the nuances of gossiping would help us utilize the same for our well-being and not as a weapon against someone’s mental peace.

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