Gossiping about other people, from celebrities ("OMG, what is going with Renee Zellweger's face?!") to our friends and colleagues, is a pastime we're all guilty of. It also happens to be one we usually feel guilty about.
Good news then for those of us who live by the water cooler (and love trawling the web for the latest plastic surgery/pregnancy/affair rumours): a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has found that hearing gossip can have a positive effect on individuals.
The study, which is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looked at the effect that both positive and negative gossip has on how an individual evaluates him or herself, and asked participants to recall an incident where they received positive or negative gossip about another person.
Researchers found that those who heard positive gossip had an increased self-improvement value (aka better self-esteem), whereas negative gossip was linked to increased pride and also elicited fear and anxiety in participants.
"For example, hearing positive stories about others may be informative, because they suggest ways to improve oneself," says head researcher, Elena Martinescu.
"Hearing negative gossip may be flattering, because it suggests that others (the gossip target) may function less well than we do. However, negative gossip may also be threatening to the self, because it suggests a malign social environment in which one may easily fall victim to negative treatments."
The researchers feel that gossip is an essential resource for self-evaluation since we tend to compare ourselves to those we gossip about. Those behind the study urge individuals to "accept gossip as a natural part of our lives and receive it with a critical attitude regarding the consequences it may have on our ourselves and on others."
The study also observed gender differences between men and women when it came to gossip and found that women who hear negative gossip feel more concerned that may find themselves in the same position as their targets.
"Men who receive positive gossip experience higher fear, perhaps because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening," according to Elena Martinescu.
Not everyone shares the opinion that gossip can be a positive tool.
Pope Francis recently told the Vatican's security force that gossip was the "worst bomb" inside the Vatican because it "threatens the life of the church and the life of (the Vatican) every day, because it "sows destruction and "destroys the lives of others."
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