Gossip is good for your social life and allows you to cooperate better

Gossip is good for your social life and allows you to cooperate better
Gossip is inextricably linked to our social interactions. We gossip to keep each other informed about the behavior and character of others. It is therefore one of the pillars of our social lives. Behavioral scientist Terence Dores Cruz examined the functions of gossip and concludes that understanding it could be key to enable cooperation through gossip and reduce the potential damage of gossip aimed at competition.

"The common perception of gossip as something that is only bad, malicious, or counterproductive needs to be reconsidered. Instead, people should also see gossip as something good, prosocial, and productive," said Dores Cruz. His research shows that there is more support for the ’good’ side of gossip than for the ’bad’ side. To this end, he used scenario studies, field studies, and interactive social dilemmas.

Keep your social life on track

Dores Cruz emphasizes that people generally regard the information they receive through gossip as relevant and reliable and use it to determine what they think of others. "They can gossip because they want to improve cooperation within a group. To achieve this, they reward good behavior with positive gossip and punish bad behavior with negative gossip. This ensures that behavior is controlled. People simply prefer to work with people they learn are likely to be trustworthy and avoid people they learn are likely to violate norms. Gossip is therefore useful to keep our social lives on track."

Cooperative and competitive functions

According to Dores Cruz, our persistent gossip shapes perceptions and behaviours that are key to creating, maintaining, and ending social relationships. "Researchers have developed two perspectives on gossip. One perspective states that gossip serves cooperative functions, which you can see as the "good" side of gossip that keeps our social life cooperative. This means that people gossip to share information about how to behave and who can (not) be trusted to adhere to norms. It can be used to make better decisions about who to work with and who to avoid. This essential to be able to cooperate within our large social groups. The other perspective states that gossip serves competitive functions, or the "bad" side of gossip that is part of competition within our social groups. This means that gossip is spread in such a way that it benefits the gossiper themselves. Gossipers can thus manipulate their own and others’ social success."

Better understanding of gossip

Gossip can have both cooperative and competitive functions. Because gossip is always part of social interactions, understanding gossip can be useful in situations ranging from one’s everyday social life such as with groups of friends or family, employees and managers, and broader forms of communication that share characteristics of gossip, such as social media or gossip about celebrities. "A better understanding of the functions of gossip can help realize the potential of gossip for cooperation and reduce the harm of gossip aimed at competition," said Dores Cruz.