07 June 2019

The Skinny on Gossip

Welcome back. Did you hear about ____? What did you hear? Oh, you can tell me; I won’t tell anyone. Men don’t gossip. Nonsense! Some of the men I’ve worked with never stopped gossiping.
“The Gossips,” Norman Rockwell’s painting for The Saturday Evening Post cover, 6 March 1948 (from www.nrm.org/2014/02/).
If you’re wondering who gossips, how often and what they gossip about, you’ll be very interested in a recent investigation by researchers from the University of California, Riverside.

Measuring Gossip
The researchers enlisted 467 people (269 female, 198 male; ages 18 to 58) for a series of five studies conducted with no intervention in the participants’ natural environments.

Each participant simply wore a portable listening device (Electronically Activated Recorder), which acoustically sampled 5% to 12% of what was spoken, for 2 to 5 days. For supporting data, they also completed demographic and personality questionnaires.

The recorded conversations were identified as gossip if (and only if) they were about someone who was not present (about 4,000 occurrences). The gossip was then categorized by the gender of the conversation partner; whether the gossip was positive, negative or neutral; whether the subject of the gossip was an acquaintance or a celebrity; and whether the topic was social information, physical appearance or achievement.

The Gossip Tallies
Of the participants’ total conversations, only about 14% were gossip.

The gossip was largely neutral, nearly 75%, though negative gossip did exceed positive gossip (604 vs 376 occurrences).

There was nearly nine times more gossip about acquaintances than about celebrities.

The female participants gossiped more than the males; however, their gossip was only neutral, information sharing.

Younger participants outdid older participants at gossiping negatively.

As would be expected, extraverted participants gossiped much more frequently than introverted participants, and their gossip ran the gamut of positive to negative.

As far as gossiping goes, there was little difference between poorer, less-educated participants and wealthier, better-educated participants.

Wrap Up
The researchers concluded that everyone gossips. With so many stereotypes about gossiping dismissed, I moved on to wondering about rumors.

Digging a bit, I found that some sources treat gossip and rumors as synonyms. I think that’s going too far, though they do overlap. But then some sources don’t limit gossip to talking about people; they open it up to things.

Defining rumors as spreading information about someone or something that has not been verified sounds correct to me, especially if it’s spread to make sense of an unclear situation or deal with a possible threat. (Rumors ran rampant in the weeks before our government office was eliminated.) On the other hand, I can’t agree with sources that claim rumors normally have a malicious intent.

Oh well. It’s probably best if I stop digging, be happy with what I learned about gossip and just wait for the next study of rumors. I’ll let you know, of course. Thanks for stopping by.

Study of gossip in Social Psychological and Personality Science journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550619837000?journalCode=sppa&
Articles on study on National Public Radio and EurekAlert! websites:

Example background articles on gossip and rumor:

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