The world of gossip It’s not just trash TV; It is deeply installed in our lives, even when we believe that we do not participate in it.
In fact, rumors and gossip are phenomena that have been widely studied by social psychology for decades, and many researchers have set out to analyze how they arise, how they spread and what effects they have.
Of course, there are people who are more likely than others to fall into the temptation of always searching for pieces of personal information and spreading it; We don’t all act the same. But… What is it that causes so many gossipy people to exist??
A basic socialization mechanism
There are researchers who attribute great importance to gossip, as it is the basis of our first forms of socialization.
For example, Psychologist and biologist Robin Dunbar has developed a theory which places gossip at the beginning of the use of language in humans, tens of thousands of years ago. For him, gossiping was the evolution of the ritual that our ancestors followed when grooming and deworming each other’s skin. If this activity served to strengthen social ties, with the appearance of language this custom was transformed into an exchange of information in a confidential context, which served to socialize and to better understand what was happening in the tribe.
In some way, the existence of gossip allowed the use of language to continue developing, which allowed complex and extensive societies to appear.
Thus, listening and transmitting gossip served to learn through simple narratives the social norms of a group, the status of each individual and even the opportunities: interacting with certain people positively? Is there anyone looking for a partner? etc
Thus, gossipy people, deep down, are fond of a style of transmitting information that could have its origin in the birth of language, and that is why they continue to use it today in a context in which the tribe has disappeared and the number of people from whom you can get interesting gossip is much higher.
But gossip also has its reason for being in the social phenomena that occur currently, regardless of what happened a long time ago. In fact, the world of gossip is a response to a basic psychological need: eliminate as much uncertainty as possibleespecially if it has to do with something that catches our attention and that we keep in mind relatively frequently.
Our brain is not designed to know everything, but it is more than competent when it comes to selecting information that is relevant to us and accumulating data on that specific topic.
When we sense that there are answers that elude us, we feel bad, because the information we have turns out to be insufficient and, if we consider it important, We will try to complete it to restore that cognitive balance which we had before. This is what happens, for example, with cognitive dissonance, which appears when we realize that our mental schemas do not fit well with the new information that reaches us.
For example, someone who is a fan of a singer may react strongly to rumors that the person uses drugs if he or she believes that such behavior does not fit the idea of a respectable person. This may make you try to find out more about the topic to modify your ideas. in the least unpleasant way possible and make this new information fit well into their cognitive schemas (for example, concluding that there is not enough evidence to consider the rumor true, or blaming someone else in the singer’s circle of friends).
Beyond the fan phenomenon
But… what happens when the gossip is about someone we don’t even respect or idolize? In these cases, the uncertainty elimination mechanism continues to work, making us interested in the lives of people who, in a way, we would say do not interest us at all.
For example, heart programs are characterized by insisting on expose details of people’s lives with which we do not empathize. The trick here is that simply repeated exposure to information about a specific person makes them more important to us, regardless of whether we like them or not.
In some way, the brain gets used to reactivating memories related to that public (or not so public) figure, so we will start to think about it more frequently and, consequently, it will be more relevant for us to fill in those gaps in knowledge. about his life when these are revealed.
Thus, even people who are not known for idolizing certain icons of popular culture are prone to falling into gossip, although sometimes they do not admit it.
Is gossip useful?
The very concept of gossip It usually goes hand in hand with the idea that it is information that is not very relevant for practical purposes., and many times this is true precisely because we know of the existence of people that we only know through the media. At other times, however, gossip can be useful from the point of view of individual interest, although the kinds of opportunities that knowing that information offers are frowned upon and, consequently, contribute to gossip being They generally do not have a good reputation either.
Ultimately, determining whether gossip is useful or not depends on each case and the type of ethical scale from which it is started.
Gossip is a component of socialization that was probably born in small communities and that, over the millennia, They have been adapting to mass societies.
If there are so many people with a propensity to listen to rumors, it is precisely because they exist through a basic psychological principle: capture information about topics we usually think abouteither because we find it reasonable to take them into account to obtain benefits or because marketing and propaganda campaigns have led us to think a lot about certain people even though this does not give us a clear material benefit.