Even when we’re told it’s an impolite behavior, gossip is a pervasive part of many communities. “Gossip is a complex form of communication that is often misunderstood,” says Eshin Jolly, Ph.D., a co-author of the study, “It can be a means of social and substantive connection beyond its typical negative connotation.” It’s more than just sharing rumors, but it can also be as simple as having a casual a private chat with a friend—something we’ve maybe been missing out on during the last year and a bit of social distancing.
The intent of their study was to find out why we gossip, using a game designed to model how we exchange personal information in our lives. “Our inspiration was creating a life-like scenario, in which you’re a member of a community and affected by the actions of all other community members, but most of whom you rarely observe and engage with directly,” Jolly explained. After either playing a game and being able to chat with their opponent or just being restricted to game play, participants indicated how much they’d want to play with that person again—and they found that those who had open chat were more inclined to play together again.
“By exchanging information with others, gossip is a way of forming relationships,” explained Luke Chang, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences and director of the COSAN Lab at Dartmouth who co-authored the study. “It involves trust and facilitates a social bond that is reinforced as further communication takes place.”