Sometime in the past week, you probably talked with a friend or colleague about someone you both know. The subject? Something that was maybe none of your business.
Or, to put it simply, you gossiped.
You might be starting to feel bad about this now that I’ve pointed it out, but guess what? Science has good news for those of us who aren’t that discreet. There’s no need to feel guilty about gossiping about people you know or, more important, stop. A new study conducted by Dutch researchers, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that we should embrace talking about others as a “natural part” of our lives that helps us with self-reflection and self-evaluation. In other words, we don’t talk smack to be mean to others; we do it to improve ourselves.
“Gossip recipients tend to use positive and negative group information to improve, promote, and protect the self,” writes Elena Martinescu, the lead researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. “Individuals need evaluative information about others to evaluate themselves.”
In the study, 183 people were asked to recall an incident where they heard either positive or negative gossip about another individual. Then they were asked a series of questions about how this chatter made them feel. Both those who heard positive and negative tales used the information to think about themselves and their lives, not to demean the object of their talk, researchers found.
“Contrary to lay perceptions,” the study says, “most negative gossip is not intended to hurt the target, but to please the gossiper and receiver.”
However, Martinescu tells Yahoo Style that the findings are restricted to talking about people you know, not gossiping about celebrities. Wondering if, say, Beyonce and Jay-Z are really on the rocks isn’t going to help you get a deeper understanding of yourself and your relationship.
“Celebrity gossip is different from gossip about people you know, because celebrities are more distant and less similar to the self than are people in your own environment,” she says. “People who receive gossip compare themselves with the target and draw conclusions about themselves. I think that in order to make accurate comparisons you need to be similar to the comparison target.”
Still, Martinescu concedes that celebrity gossip may not be all that bad either. “Celebrity gossip may be interesting and appealing in a way that stories about fictional characters are interesting,” she says. “They do tell something about the world we live in and the standards we use for making certain judgments.”