Good news for gossip girls everywhere. Salacious banter, idle chatter. Can gossip actually be good for you? Researchers are beginning to think so.
"Gossip gets a bad rap, but we're finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order," said University of California, Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, who coauthored the study, currently published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
That critical role may even include positive outcomes such as "helping us police bad behavior, prevent exploitation and lower stress."
Noteworthy, though, was that the focus of the gossip in the study was 'prosocial' -- meaning it wasn't the run of the mill, bitchy look-what-she's-wearing variety. It was all about warning others about dishonest goings on.
"We shouldn't feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of," said Matthew Feinberg, another UC Berkeley social psychologist and lead author of the paper.
The Berkeley experiments involved card games in which one observers could see that one player was cheating. Heart rates increased as the cheating was detected, but once the observers dished about what they'd witnessed, their heart rates shot down. In short, Willer found "gossiping made them feel better."
Moral of the story? Gossip is good, so long as it's the altruistic kind. Used to help others out, and not just trash talking.