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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

Hot Off The Press: Why Gossip Can Actually Be Good For Us

Gossip is a natural human tendency. People have always had casual conversations about their fellow humans, whether they are just idly shooting the breeze or have a hidden agenda. We tend to be taught that gossip is a negative behaviour, and that we should mind our own beeswax. However, is this the whole truth and could there be a positive side to gossip?

Most of us will find our attention caught by some news of a celebrity scandal, whether we care to admit it or not. Sometimes we may feel rightly aggrieved by what we hear, especially if it involves verified stories about people in positions of power misbehaving. However, there are some obvious dangers to gossiping about people we know.

Some people will always be inclined to spread personal information about others with the intent of causing them hurt or humiliation. A person may spread harmful gossip in an attempt to boost their own social status and gain attention; to help them feel better about themselves by deflecting negative comments onto others; or to get revenge out of spite or envy.

We have probably all felt uncomfortable or angry at some point when we have realised that someone has been talking about us behind our back, particularly if the information is distorted or untrue. In the worst case scenario, bad gossip can damage lives and cause mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and low self esteem.

However, gossip doesn’t always have to be negative. During the pandemic when we were under severe lockdown restrictions, many people found themselves missing those small casual conversations with fellow humans, rather than big nights out or exotic holiday destinations. 

An article in Psychology Today suggests that gossip is part of the human desire to tell stories, which has developed as an evolutionary survival mechanism. It’s not so much about spreading information out of malice and hatred towards an individual, but about sharing information that could be useful or help to keep us safe.

For example, if a friend mentions that they are thinking about booking a holiday through a particular travel agency, but you know someone who had a bad experience with them, you would probably be inclined to share the story. This is done with the good intentions of preventing your friend from potentially wasting their precious time and money.

In the past, this type of gossip could act as a sort of informal warning system about dangerous situations or suspicious characters, helping people to keep safe and learn from the misfortunes (or good fortune) of others.

Today, this can still be relevant as we navigate the social landscape, and pick up informal advice about people to stay away from and who can be trusted. It’s a form of cooperation to help humans get along as a group and ensure that they are on the same page as each other. 

The fear of being gossiped about in a negative way can help to keep any selfish or inappropriate behaviour in check. It can also be simply a way of putting feelers out for what other people might be thinking or feeling, helping to build social bonds, let off steam about a bad situation, or share joy and good news. 

A 2019 study by psychology researchers at the University of California found that the majority of conversations about other people (over three-quarters) were not negative or positive, but neutral. The study involved 500 people and also revealed that we spend an average of 52 minutes a day engaging in casual conversation.

In times of particular anxiety or uncertainty, gossip can be a way of helping people to make sense of what is going on around them. After all, no one likes the feeling that they have been ‘left out of the loop.’ This can happen unintentionally, when you are left out of an emailing list and therefore miss a work event or an important piece of information.

However, deliberately leaving someone out of the loop can be a form of ostracism. The need to feel connection and belonging is hard-wired into the human psyche, so being deliberately excluded can be painful and erode positive feelings of trust and loyalty. 

While it’s important to be aware of the fine line between sharing useful information and spreading harmful or hurtful gossip for our own ends, there’s no getting away from the fact that gossip is a part of the human experience and that it has its role to play in social relations. 

If you are interested in discussing hypnotherapy in Kensington, please get in touch today.

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