Ask people to generate a list of social sins, and sooner or later, gossip is bound to come up. Sure, it pales in comparison to coveting thy neighbor, but the Bible does warn us that we should “not go about spreading slander.” And if your mother is like mine, she probably told you that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say it at all.
But what if our moms were wrong?
In a series of new studies, social scientists have introduced a form of gossip that actually makes people better off. Imagine that you’re given $10. You can pass as much of the money as you want to Joe. The amount that you give him will be tripled, and he can then share as much as he wants with you. You decide to pass all $10 to Joe, so he now has $30. Instead of sharing the spoils, Joe keeps the entire $30 for himself, leaving you with nothing.
Now, Lisa is going to play the same game with Joe, and you have the chance to pass her a note. How would you feel — and what would you write?
In this experiment, led by the psychologist Matthew Feinberg, most people were irritated. Ninety-six percent of people chose to gossip about Joe. They wrote things like “Joe is not reliable; he’s playing for his own selfish interest.”
They were annoyed beforehand, but gossiping made them feel better, and their heart rates dropped as a result. “Witnessing the unfair play,” the researchers write, “led to elevated heart rates for participants who had no opportunity to gossip.”
Typically, gossiping is a way to get a leg up on others. It carries a veiled threat: if you cross me, I’ll spread bad news about you too. And by putting others down, we signal that we’re superior — and that we have access to privileged information.
Read the whole story: LinkedIn
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