Gossip and socialization
Wednesday, August 17th, 2005
Gossip has long been dismissed by researchers as little more than background noise, blather with no useful function. But some investigators now say that gossip should be central to any study of group interaction.
People find it irresistible for good reason: Gossip not only helps clarify and enforce the rules that keep people working well together, studies suggest, but it circulates crucial information about the behavior of others that cannot be published in an office manual. As often as it sullies reputations, psychologists say, gossip offers a foothold for newcomers in a group and a safety net for group members who feel in danger of falling out. …
Long-term studies of Pacific Islanders, American middle-school children and residents of rural Newfoundland and Mexico, among others, have confirmed that the content and frequency of gossip are universal: people devote anywhere from a fifth to two-thirds or more of their daily conversation to gossip, and men appear to be just as eager for the skinny as women.
Sneaking, lying and cheating among friends or acquaintances make for the most savory material, of course, and most people pass on their best nuggets to at least two other people, surveys find.
This grapevine branches out through almost every social group and it functions, in part, to keep people from straying too far outside the group’s rules, written and unwritten, social scientists find.