Research Shows Gossip Can Improve Life, Helps Build Relationships With Trust
If you’ve ever heard that old chestnut that “great minds discuss ideas, while small minds discuss how ugly their new friend’s baby is,” and felt bad because you find it much more fun to talk about how an infant looks like a lopsided old man than Plato’s lesser works, then today is your day to feel smugly superior! Let the “intellectuals” talk about alchemy and whether or not humans are inherently good. New research suggests that discussing the personal failings of those around you will actually keep you healthier and happier.
Broadly reports that the new data, out of the University of Pavia, shows that when we drop the pretenses and start speaking in earnest about others — and not even in a polite way — oxytocin levels start increasing, producing lots of nice feelings and making us feel closer to the person with whom we are sharing the most private details of our mutual friends’ failing marriage, recent unemployment, or stint in rehab-which-no-one-was-supposed-to-know-about-but-which-another-friend-told-you-and-it’s-not-like-you-can-just-keep-it-in, you know? And that’s probably why we continue doing it, even if the feeling of dread that usually sets in after sharing hot gossip.
“I work as a psychiatrist,” explains lead author Dr Natascia Brondino over the phone to Broadly, “and I noticed that every time my colleagues and I gossiped, we felt closer together. I started to wonder whether there was a biochemical cause for this feeling of closeness.”
To test her hypothesis, Brondino recruited 22 female students from a local university and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. The first group—prompted by an actress who steered the conversation—gossiped about a recent unplanned pregnancy on campus. The second, non-gossip group heard an actress tell an emotional personal story about how a sporting injury meant she might never be able to play sports again. Additionally, both groups took part in a control exercise, answering neutral questions about their courses and their reasons for taking part in the study.
Turns out that while stress went down for both groups (mouth swabs confirmed a decrease in cortisol), the group that shamelessly got into it about the campus pregnancy enjoyed a significant increase in oxytocin, meaning that not only did the group that gossiped feel better by the time they were done with the exercise, but they may have even formed some friendships along the way! Awesome! Fantastic! So there’s now some evidence that every person who’s ever chastised you for looking at TMZ is absolutely wrong. (More research will need to be done before this is an iron-clad truth, though — including a study with men — so stay humble in your gloating.)
According to Brondino, gossiping serves two important functions: First, it allows you to speak about things both you and your friends really care about; second, it allows you to decide whom to trust. Of course, gossip is a bitter pill that will one day poison all who dispense of it, but at least all those warm fuzzies you get from sharing a conversation about another person’s foibles will have been worth it!