You might have heard that it’s bad workplace etiquette to gossip, but if you’ve witnessed someone with bad behaviour, feel free to spread the news.
“Prosocial” gossip — the kind that helps prevent others from being taken advantage of — does not only benefit the greater good, but also improves the health of the gossiper, according to a recently published study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (via the ScienceDaily).
“Gossip gets a bad rap, but we’re finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order,” says Robb Willer, a psychologist and coauthor of the study.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley says that gossip is actually therapeutic and can lower stress levels for participants.
In one experiment, participants were hooked up to heart rate monitors as they observed two people playing a game. After a couple of rounds, the participants saw one player not playing by the rules, which caused their heart rates to increase. When the observers were able to pass along the “unsavory characters” to other people, their heart rates decreased.
“Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip,” Willer says.
Furthermore, this urge to inform others when someone is behaving badly isn’t affected when money is at stake either. In another experiment, participants who witnessed someone cheating during a game were able to pass along a gossip note to inform the other player, but, in doing so, would sacrifice the pay they’d receive for the study. The gossip note also doesn’t negatively impact the cheating player’s score. In the study, most participants who saw this cheating act decided to take the offer and pass along a gossip note.
Laura Davies, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at California Pacific Medical centre, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the the study is “limited” an should be taken “with a huge grain of salt.”
But Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser San Francisco, says that gossiping for prosocial purposes has the ability to have a “cathartic effect”: “If you’re holding on to some negative info about someone, sharing that with someone is sharing that burden,” Turner says. “But you have to ask yourself: Are you rumormongering or trying to discredit somebody, or are you sharing information that’s tough to hold on to?”