A research team from the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, ran several experiments to learn how people react to gossip. The study results were published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and according to lead study author Elena Martinescu, people who participate in gossip can “infer things about themselves and evaluate themselves without having to test everything directly.” For those listening to gossip, that gossip may be helping them formulate more accurate expectations for the future. Positive gossip can lead people to work on self-improvement, but negative gossip is more complicated: Some people took being the subject of gossip as an ego boost while others saw it as a kind of warning.
Most experts say that gossip cuts both ways, and is an age-old form of human communication. It’s a channel for news, an alert to upcoming events, and may provide some emotional readiness for something coming in the future. Gossip allows people to read between the lines and there are no signs it won’t continue to be a popular cultural practice. One thing this research does not address is the impact gossip has on the ones who spread it.
Howard Forman, MD, says “the gossiper is never someone you want to be.” Dr. Forman, a psychiatrist, says people are uncomfortable around a gossip, and won’t want one as part of their team even if they enjoy hearing the rumors. As for the enjoyment gossips experience when they’re spreading news, it’s probably short-lived. People may look at you as a great source of information, but not always as a great human being. Martinescu says she doesn’t agree, explaining that gossips can gain influence within their group, build social relationships, and even intimate friendships.