Maria Lemeshova. Gossip, 2021
American scientists conducted an experiment in which they asked 269 women and 198 men from 18 to 58 years old to write down everything they talked about for several days. Psychologists Megan Robbins and Alexander Karan from the University of California equipped them with special voice recorders attached to the body. When the scientists processed the results, it turned out that 14% of communication, which is an average of about 52 minutes a day, people spent on gossip.
This study by American scientists dramatically expands our understanding of the habits and motivations behind gossip. The experiment’s results not only disprove several common myths but also reveal the underlying psychological and social factors that influence this behavioral tendency.
MYTH 1: PEOPLE GOSSIP ABOUT CELEBRITIES
After analyzing more than 4,000 gossip stories, researchers found that the bulk of gossip stories were evaluatively neutral reports involving common acquaintances. Gossip is not just a retelling of someone else’s life; it is a mirror reflecting our own fears, biases, and desires. Researchers categorized gossip into positive, negative, and neutral. There were twice as many negative ones as positive ones — 604 cases against 376.
MYTH 2: THE LOVE OF GOSSIP INCREASES WITH AGE
Gossip had a pronounced age «coloring». It turns out that the younger the experiment participant was, the more willingly he discussed third parties in the conversation. In addition, young people said more unflattering things about others than older people.
Contrary to popular belief, the older the subjects were, the less inclined they were to gossip, and there was less negativity in their gossip.
MYTH 3: EVERYONE LIKES TO GOSSIP
This myth comes from the assumption that gossip is a universal way of socializing and entertaining, inherent in every person equally. However, in reality, attitudes towards gossip vary significantly from person to person. For example, it has been observed that the propensity to gossip depends on personality type. For instance, extroverts, who are outwardly oriented, gossiped much more often than introverts, who are immersed in their inner world. Positive, negative, and neutral evaluations were evenly distributed between them.
MYTH 4: WEALTHY PEOPLE GOSSIP MORE
This is a stereotypical view of wealthy people where discussing other people’s affairs, successes, and failures is seen as an everyday activity. In movies, literature, and media, it is sometimes portrayed as a characteristic of the wealthy, especially in the context of the bored aristocracy or the social elite.
Researchers have found that financial status significantly affects the propensity to gossip, but the reverse is true: the less affluent gossip about others much more readily.
Wealthy people often have access to good education and social upbringing. These factors may reduce the tendency to gossip among the affluent. Education tends to broaden views and teach critical thinking, which may reduce interest in unverified or superficial information. The more educated were much more restrained in discussing others and spreading rumors.
MYTH 5: WOMEN ARE RESTLESS GOSSIPERS
The next discovery overthrew gender stereotypes about women as restless gossipers and chatterboxes. California psychologists found that men and women gossip on average the same amount of time. Moreover, women were found to be more neutral and men more negative in their assessments.
Discoveries about the age, gender, and socioeconomic aspects of gossip allow for a fuller appreciation of the complexity and diversity of human communication. However, it is important to note that gossip is not simply harmless entertainment or character flaws; it is part of a larger social and cultural context that influences people’s behavior and relationships.