The Psychology of Gossip

The Psychology of Gossip


Gossip is a phenomenon that is considered bad by many people. Whenever someone brings up the word gossip, people are sure to conjure up images of quivering tongues, loose lips, vicious gossip, and pitiful, helpless targets. The general perception of gossip is categorized as negative, as evidenced by the terms “small talk,” “technical talk,” “idle talk,” and “deception”. It is stereotyped as malicious and harmful, and is widely blamed for damaging reputations, damaging relationships, and lowering morale. According to history, gossip is considered a destructive and deplorable act that requires punishment and attention. Gossip is a form of reputational warfare and is related to the reasons for employees’ departure, incompetent leadership, and the hostile atmosphere at work in organizations (Hallet, 2009).

Ironically, despite its negative reputation, gossip is still ubiquitous. Virtually everyone has participated in a gossip article, and sometimes participating in a gossip episode is inevitable the meaning of gossip has gone through many changes. Surprisingly, research has recognized that gossip can be both positive and negative, making room for a more neutral definition. Therefore, the effects can be good or bad. This article attempts to develop a theory about why gossip is so prevalent, what really motivates it, and what keeps it alive.

Understanding the Dynamics of Gossip

Empirical research does not provide a clear idea about the extent to which gossip affects people’s lives. Depending on your point of view, the broad category of gossip can have a positive or negative impact on society. This study considers Foster’s (2004) definition of gossip as an exchange of personal information about an absent third party conveyed in an evaluative manner. Three pieces of information were identified that are classified as gossip. First, it must be personal in nature and involve a sense of familiarity shared by people with common interests. Secondly, there are rumors about the absence of a third party. Therefore, there is a veil of secrecy, which is why for a rumor to take off, it is essential that the target of the gossip is not around to confirm, deny, or defend his side of the story.

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Finally, gossip must be conveyed in a critical manner. When gossipers gossip, whether positive or negative, they implicitly convey their personal judgments (or evaluations) about the issue. Consistent with the evaluative nature of gossip, Turcotte (2012) argued that group norms need to be followed to reduce the likelihood of talking about gossip. Usually, a person who violates the norm becomes the subject of rumors. Wilson et al.(2000) argued that by maintaining group norms, gossip becomes self-serving, portrays the gossiper in a good light, and leads them to pursue their targets harshly. According to Blumberg (1972), the tendency to gossip is essentially a violation of the right to privacy because people generally do not want to be labeled or labeled as gossip.

Cultural perspective

From a cultural perspective, gossip can be a way for us to learn about our social environment. Learning about other people’s misfortunes and hearing about other people’s achievements can help you better understand how you can make a name for yourself in order to succeed in the social system. Cultural knowledge as a result of gossip improves individual performance.

Since Man strives for success, he will definitely compare his success to that of others. Gossip is essentially a function of social comparison. When people compare themselves to others, it is driven not only by the need for self-evaluation, but also by the urge to improve or improve themselves (Wert and Salovey, 2004). When he hears about the achievements of others through the grapevine, that same person strives to achieve achievements so that he can say that he is equally successful.

Theory formulation

The fundamental hypothesis for this investigation is derived from a basic set of self-evident facts that have been acquired from previous research. Various authors have characterized gossip in different ways.

People build their worth by their self-concept:

“Self” is a concept unique to each person that embodies the ultimate question, “Who am I? A person’s self-image is shaped by the reactions they receive from significant others during social interactions. One of the components of self-image is known as self-esteem or self-esteem. This is how a person perceives himself or what he thinks about himself. Another component is self-image. This is important for good mental health and is determined by how people think, feel and act in the world. His third and final element is his ideal self. This reflects who the person wants to be. It is dynamic and consists of goals and ambitions in life.

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According to Rogers (1959), the closer our self-image is to our ideal self, the more aligned we are and the more self-esteem we experience. Therefore, a distorted self-image causes approximately 4,444 discomforts throughout a person’s being. The self-concept emphasizes the human drive, the striving for superiority (Adler, 1964). The pursuit of superiority occurs because we feel inferior as humans. At the beginning of life, we are born imperfect and incompetent, which causes a feeling of inferiority. Those feelings become the driving force that leads people to growth. Those who develop stronger self-esteem strive for the success of humanity as a whole, while those who do not are maimed by feelings of inferiority and selfish intentions.

The Dual Nature of Gossip: Social Functions and Negative Perceptions


Gossip is an efficient means of gathering and disseminating information (Foster, 2004). The information exchanged allows individuals to map their social environment and their position within that social environment, for example, gossip is considered to be an extension of observational learning. People learn about the complexities of social and cultural life by hearing about the successes and misfortunes of others. We seem to learn not only about other people’s special experiences, but also about more subtle details such as their clothing style. Therefore, by sharing information about others, we can learn without direct interaction or observation.


Dunbar (1998, 2004a) and Mesoudi et al. (2006), in their social gossip theory of language, argue that human language evolved to track complex social networks and ensure cohesion in large social groups. More specifically, sharing gossip at the dyadic level is associated with friendship and even leads to friendship development. Furthermore, it has been suggested that group-level gossip leads to group-specific knowledge, group-specific norms, and trust, which promotes group cohesion and commitment. Therefore, sharing information about others is a way to build and maintain relationships and networks.

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An increasing body of evidence suggests that gossip functions as a kind of unofficial law enforcement against social cheaters and freeloaders. People are discouraged from acting against social norms and the interests of the group because they fear that word of bad behavior will spread like wildfire and could result in reputational damage or even social exclusion. Therefore, gossip promotes cooperation and prevents individuals from acting against the interests of the community.

Finally, it has been suggested that gossip has an entertainment function, providing recreational value and significant stimulation at a very low cost. Overall, research hypothesizes and empirically shows that the exchange of information about absent third parties serves several important functions in social environments.

However, despite its important social function, gossip has a rather negative reputation. For example, when individuals were asked about their propensity to gossip, they rated themselves as less likely to gossip than the average peer of the same sex, which suggests that gossip is more likely to be negative. (Hartung and Renner, 2013). Additionally, people who gossip frequently are perceived as less likable and less popular than those who gossip less frequently. To support its bad reputation, some researchers have suggested that gossip is a covert (i.e., non-confrontational) form of aggression used specifically by women. Therefore, a positive “social function view” is not reflected in the reputation of clappers and clappers.

Neural Responses to Self- and Celebrity-Talk

Peng et al. (2015) investigated the brain imaging of people while they were exposed to both positive and negative self- and celebrity talk. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, which helps people navigate complex social behaviors, showed higher activity in those who heard either positive or bad chatter about them. When the subjects were exposed to negative rumors in general, this reaction happened. Additionally, he found that unfavorable rumors about celebrities activated the brain’s reward center, the caudate nucleus, illustrating how dramatic celebrity scandals pique people’s interest. According to the study, participants were happier when they heard flattering rumors about themselves and more agitated when they heard unfavorable rumors.

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Redefining Gossip

Our social environment is infiltrated with gossip like a thread. Despite its significant societal roles, gossip is generally seen negatively. The results of the current study demonstrate that the unfavorable reputation is unfounded since people report using gossip, mostly for informational purposes rather than malicious intent. Furthermore, even though the motivations for gossiping vary depending on the individual (i.e., dark triad personality), those with “dark” personalities also seem to use gossip to adjust how they see themselves and other people.

  • Chua, S. V., & De La Cerna Uy, K. J. (2014). The Psychological Anatomy Of Gossip. American Journal Of Management, 14(3).
  • Hartung, Freda-Marie et al. “Better Than Its Reputation? Gossip and the Reasons Why We and Individuals With “Dark” Personalities Talk About Others.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 10 1162. 29 May. 2019, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01162

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