According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some communities in the Philippines believe that gossip is so detestable that they have been banned altogether.
Leaving aside the difficulty of imposing such regulations on people, is the bad reputation of gossip justified?
Yes. In its purest form, gossip is a strategy used by people to promote their own reputation and interests at the expense of others. Several studies I have done confirm that gossip can be used cruelly with selfish intentions.
At the same time, how many people can find out about a good gossip about one of their acquaintances and not tell it? Surely, each of us knows how difficult it is to keep a juicy gossip about another person secret.
When we belittle the gossip, we overlook the fact that it is an essential part of the functioning of the social world; The most unpleasant side of gossip eclipses its advantages and benefits.
In fact, gossip can be considered not as a personality defect, but as a highly evolved social skill. Those who are not good at gossiping often have difficulty maintaining personal relationships and may feel marginalized or have difficulty adapting to a group.
As social creatures that we are, we are programmed to gossip
Like it or not, we are descendants of gossips. Evolutionary expert psychologists believe that our concerns for the lives of others is the result of a prehistoric brain.
According to experts, our prehistoric ancestors lived in relatively small groups and knew each other intimately. To protect themselves from enemies and survive in their arduous natural environment, our ancestors needed to cooperate with the members of the group, but they were also aware that those same teammates were their main competitors in terms of possible partners and limited resources.
Living in such conditions, our ancestors faced a series of social problems of adaptation: Who to trust? Who is a cheater? Who would be my best friend? How can friendships, alliances and family obligations be balanced?
In this type of environment, being very curious about the private affairs of other people would have been very useful and would have been favored by natural selection. Those individuals who knew how to take advantage of their social intelligence to interpret, predict and influence the behavior of others were more successful and more likely to survive.
The genes of these individuals were transmitted from one generation to another.
Avoid talk: a sure way to end up in social isolation
Today, good gossips are influential and popular members of their social groups.
Sharing secrets makes people create links with each other and gossiping is a sign that there is trust: you are indicating that you believe that the person will not use this sensitive information against you.
Hence, a person who speaks well will have a good relationship with a large network of people. At the same time, they will be discreetly informed about what is happening in the whole group.
On the other hand when someone no It is part of, for example, the company's gossip group is a stranger, someone whom the group does not trust or accept. Presenting yourself as a saintly soul who refuses to participate in gossip will ultimately be nothing more than a way of ensuring social isolation.
At work, several studies have shown that gossiping harmlessly with co-workers can create cohesion in the group and raise morale.
Gossiping also helps to socialize newcomers to a group, since it facilitates ambiguity about the group's norms and values. In other words, hearing the judgments that people make about the behavior of others helps the new person discover what things are acceptable and which are not.
The fear of whispers keeps us at bay
On the other hand, know that others They are probably talking about us can keep us at bay.
Among a group of friends or co-workers, the threat of becoming the target of gossip can actually be a positive thing: it can deter the "exploited" and the cheats who may be tempted to waste time or take advantage of others.!They are talking about me?
Biologist Robert Trivers has argued the evolutionary importance of detecting gross cheats (those who do not respond to altruistic acts) and those subtle cheats (Those who respond but give much less than they receive). Gossip can make these people in life feel ashamed, controlling them.
Studies conducted in California ranchers, Maine lobster fishers and rowing college teams confirm that gossip is used in a variety of settings to hold individuals accountable. In each of these groups, individuals who did not meet the expectations of sharing resources or fulfilling their responsibilities became a target for gossip and ostracism. This, in turn, pressured them to become better members of the group.
For example, lobster fishers who did not respect well-established group rules about when and how lobsters could be caught were quickly exposed by their peers and were temporarily rejected, even refusing to work with them.
The world of the heart can help us in many ways
Belgian psychologist Charlotte de Backer distinguishes between gossip to learn strategies Y reputation gossip.
When comments refer to a particular individual, we are generally interested only if we know that person. However, some gossip is interesting no matter who it is. This type of talk can include stories about life or death situations or exploits of renown and we pay attention to them because we can learn strategies that we can apply to our own lives.
In fact, de Backer discovered that our interest in the lives of celebrities can feed on this thirst to learn strategies for life. For better or worse, we look at celebrities in the same way that our ancestors looked to role models within their tribes for guidance.
Deep down, our obsession with celebrities reflects an innate interest in other people's lives.
From an evolutionary point of view, "fame" is a recent phenomenon caused mainly by the explosion of mass media in the twentieth century. However, for our ancestors the social importance was in the intimate details of the private life of all the world, since all had relevance in their small social world.There is an entire industry dedicated to the world of the heart.
But the anthropologist Jerome Barkow has pointed out that evolution did not prepare us to distinguish between the members of our community that have a real effect on us and among those that only exist in the photos, films and songs that permeate our daily lives.
There are all kinds of online magazines and portals where the media feed the gossip that mimics those of our workplaces and groups of friends. In a way, it is a way to trick our brains into feeling intense familiarity with those celebrities and makes us want to know even more about them. After all, anyone we see so often and from whom we know so much, socially must be important to us.
The familiarity we have with celebrities can have an important social function: they may be the only "friends" we have in common with our new neighbors or co-workers. They are shared cultural cornerstones that facilitate informal interactions that make people feel more comfortable in a new environment. Keeping up with the lives of actors, politicians and athletes can make a person more socially skilled when talking with strangers and even make new relationships thrive.
The conclusion is that we need to rethink the role of gossip in everyday life; there is no reason to avoid them or to be ashamed of them.
A good gossip implies knowing how to work in a team and sharing key information with others so that it is not perceived as a selfish act. It is about knowing when it is appropriate to speak and when it is better to keep your mouth shut.
* Author: Frank T. McAndrew, Knox College
This article has originally been published in The Conversation. You can read the original article here.
Translated by Silvestre Urbón. *