From what new research is telling us, it sounds like gossiping is a necessary wrong that feels so right.
Gossip has long been known to have important social functions. It allows us to establish and enforce rules, bond with others and promote cooperation (on top of learning all the things we shouldn’t, but really want to, know about our friends and enemies).
Researchers at the University of Pavia in Italy took the social phenomenon to the psychological level by looking at the effect of gossip on oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” which facilitates bonding, and cortisol, a hormone released during stress.
They randomly assigned 22 female students to have either a gossip conversation or an emotional nongossip conversation. Then, on the second day of the study, the Chatty Cathys were asked to have a neutral conversation. When the researchers measured oxytocin and cortisol levels in the participants’ saliva, they found that oxytocin increased significantly among the women who were in the gossip group compared with those in the emotional nongossip group. And cortisol decreased after all three types of conversation.
The Gretchen Weiners of the world are finally having their day. What’s more, psychological characteristics like perceived stress, empathy, autistic traits and even envy didn’t affect the oxytocin spike. So you’ll get the happy benefits even if you’re gossiping with a frenemy.
One limitation to the study is its all-female subject pool. “Oxytocin can be very influenced by sexual arousal,” professor Natascia Brondino, one of the study’s authors, tells Broadly. “So we didn’t want men and women taking part in the study to become aroused by each other and influence the findings.”
Other studies reported on by the Atlantic found that people also use gossip to evaluate themselves and how well they’re following social norms. Unfortunately, another study concluded that people who gossip are generally less likable than their tight-lipped counterparts.
So, if you have some not-so-nice opinions about someone, confide in friends and family members whom you trust. And feel free to gossip about these findings — it’ll probably do you good.