Author (Greek version): F. Mavrogiorgi

Translation: Maria Ourani

Gossip…We have all heard of it and, to a greater or lesser degree, we have all participated in it at some point. Undoubtedly, gossip is an activity that can offer pleasure, that can help you relax, whereas sometimes it can offer a unique feeling of satisfaction for some reason. However, what does “gossip”, or “social comment”, mean? Why does it happen and how can it affect people connected to it directly and indirectly?

What urges us to gossip? Anthropologists believe that, throughout human history, gossip was a way to form social connections to other people and sometimes it was a tool to isolate those who didn’t support the group. Evolutionary psychologists are on the same wavelength. They believe that engagement in other people’s lives is a by-product of our prehistorical brain. According to scientists, our prehistorical ancestors lived in small groups and this is the reason they knew each other very well. In order to push back their enemies and survive in their harsh natural environment, our ancestors had to cooperate with the members of their group. However, they also recognized the fact that these members were also their main competitors for the limited resources.

Living under such circumstances, our ancestors had to deal with a series of adaptive social problems: who is reliable? Who is a traitor? Who would be a better partner? How can we achieve stability in friendships, alliances, and family obligations? Those who were better at making good use of their social intelligence to interpret, predict, and affect other people’s behavior were more successful than those who couldn’t.

In modern world, where societies are more multitudinous and more complex, gossip helps people to build bonds, to develop and maintain relationships, to cultivate social skills. At the same time, gossip functions as a means of social control of principles and rules of the group, of ethics and traditions. Especially closed societies seek to ascertain who satisfies the commonly accepted criteria of their society and who doesn’t. However, the need of people to judge themselves by comparing them with others and to “project” the unpleasant sides of themselves to others, not recognizing them as their own, lies subconsciously.

Gossip has a good side, though. According to the research carried out by Rosnow and Foster (2005) gossip seems to contribute to the prevention of bad behavior and to the avoidance of other people taking advantage of you. Moreover, it reduces stress, because, according to experiments, the participants developed rapid heartbeat when they saw someone behaving badly, and they felt better when they could say what they had seen. According to the researchers, “gossip is positive, but we tend to overlook its positive function. In many cases, it starts because we care about others”. Maybe we need to reevaluate the role of gossip in modern daily life, but the important thing is for someone to know when to speak and when to keep their mouth closed… so that misunderstandings can be avoided.