Why Are So Many People Gossiping?

The transmission of gossip is a constant in practically any type of society. Why?

The world of gossip is not simply something that sticks to junk  TV ; it is deeply installed in our lives, even when we believe that we do not participate in it.

In fact, rumors and gossip are phenomena that have been widely studied by social psychology for decades, and there have been many researchers who have proposed to analyze how they are born, how they are spread and what effects they have.

Of course, there are people who are more likely than others to be tempted to always look for pieces of personal information and spread it; not all of us act the same. But … what is it that makes so many gossipy people out there ?

A basic mechanism of socialization

There are researchers who attribute great importance to gossip, as it is at the base of our first forms of socialization.

For example, the psychologist and biologist Robin Dunbar has developed a theory that places gossip at the beginning of the use of language in humans, tens of thousands of years ago. For him, gossiping was the evolution of the ritual that our ancestors followed when grooming and deworming each other’s skin. If this activity served to reinforce social ties, with the appearance of language, this custom became an exchange of information in a confidential context, which served to socialize and to better understand what was happening in the tribe.

Somehow, the existence of gossip allowed the use of language to continue to develop, which allowed complex and extensive societies to appear.

Thus, listening and transmitting gossip served to learn through simple narratives the social norms of a group, the status of each individual and even the opportunities: interacting with certain positive people? Is there someone looking for a partner? etc.

Thus, gossip people, deep down, are fond of a style of transmitting information that could have its origin in the birth of language, and that is why they continue to use it today in a context in which the tribe has disappeared and the number The number of people from whom you can extract interesting gossip is much higher.

Eliminate uncertainty

But gossip also has its reason for being in the social phenomena that occur today, regardless of what happened long ago. In fact, the world of gossip is a response to a basic psychological need: to remove as much uncertainty as possible, especially if it has to do with something that catches our attention and that we keep in mind relatively frequently.

Our brain is not designed to know everything, but it is more than competent when it comes to selecting information that is relevant to us and when accumulating data on that particular topic.

When we sense that there are answers that escape us, we feel bad, because the information we have is insufficient and, if we consider it important, we will try to complete it to restore that cognitive balance that we had before. This is what happens, for example, with  cognitive dissonance, which appears when we realize that our mental schemes do not fit well with the new information that comes to us.

For example, someone who is a fan of a singer may react strongly to rumors that the person is using drugs if they believe that such behavior does not fit the idea of ​​a respectable person. This may make you try to dig deeper into the subject to modify your ideas in the least unpleasant way possible and make this new information fit your cognitive schemas well (for example, concluding that there is not enough evidence to hold the rumor true, or holding someone else responsible for the singer’s circle of friends).

Beyond the fan phenomenon

But … what happens when the gossip is about someone we don’t even respect or idolize? In these cases, the mechanism of elimination of uncertainty continues to work, making us interested in the lives of people who, in a way, we would say that we are not interested at all.

For example, heart programs are characterized by insisting on exposing details of life of person s with not  empathize. The trick here is that simply repeated exposure to information about a specific person makes it more important to us, regardless of whether we like him or not.

Somehow, the brain gets used to reactivating the memories related to that public (or not so public) figure, with which we will start to think about her more frequently and, therefore, it will be more relevant for us to fill in those knowledge gaps about his life when they are revealed.

Thus, even people who are not characterized by idolizing certain icons of popular culture are prone to falling into gossip, although they sometimes do not admit it. 

Is it useful to gossip?

The very concept of gossip tends to go hand in hand with the idea that information is not very relevant for practical purposes, and many times this is true precisely because we know of the existence of people that we only know through the media. On other occasions, however, gossip can be useful from the point of view of individual interest, although the kinds of opportunities offered by knowing such information are frowned upon and, therefore, contribute to gossip in generally do not enjoy a good reputation either. 

Ultimately, determining whether gossip is useful or not depends on each case and the type of ethical scale from which it starts.

In conclusion

Gossip is a component of socialization that was probably born in small communities and that, over the millennia, have adapted to mass societies.

If there are so many people with a propensity to listen to rumors, it is precisely because they exist through a basic psychological principle: to capture information about topics we usually think about, either because we find it reasonable to take them into account to obtain benefits or because marketing campaigns and propaganda have led us to think a lot about certain people even though this does not bring us a clear material benefit.

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