New research has turned advice from mothers everywhere on its head – a little gossip can be considered a ‘pro-social’ interaction and is an essential ingredient of happy workplaces.
According to recently published research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “pro-social gossip” plays an integral role in the maintenance of an ordered society. The researchers, from the University of California, concluded that gossip is actually a therapeutic exercise and can lower the stress levels of all participants.
In one experiment, participants were hooked up to heart-rate monitors as they observed two people playing a game. After a couple of rounds, the participants saw one player not playing by the rules, which caused their heart rates to increase. When the observers were able to pass along to other people the knowledge that this unsavoury behaviour was going on, their heart rates decreased.
“Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip,” Robb Willer, a psychologist and co-author of the study said. “Gossip gets a bad rap, but we’re finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order," he added.
However Laura Davies, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at California Pacific Medical Centre, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the study was “limited” and should be taken “with a huge grain of salt.”
Queensland Council of Unions assistant secretary Amanda Richards said the level of tolerable gossip comes down to community standards. “We all gossip – it’s human nature; it’s just a matter of how vicious it becomes.”