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Heard It on the Grapevine: Prolific Gossipers Aren't Well Liked

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Heard It on the Grapevine: Prolific Gossipers Aren't Well Liked

A Baltimore University study suggests that prolific gossipers are liked less than those who don’t gossip. And negative gossipers are seen as less socially powerful.

Gossip is a staple of our culture. Every social community has its share of tittle-tattlers. From the elementary school playground to the seniors’ bridge group, gossip plays a large role in shaping relationships among groups. Entire industries rely upon nothing but scuttlebutt.

It’s not surprising that researchers might want to delve into the psychology of gossip—what’s behind it, what people gain from it, and how people perceive those who engage in it. And between you and me (no lie!), there’s a ton of studies out there.

One recent study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, investigated the perception of people who share gossip and discovered that prolific gossipers aren’t well liked.

How do you like gossipers?

Sally Farley, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Baltimore, asked 128 participants to rate someone they knew who either did or didn’t engage in “informal communication about people when they were not around” (or gossip) on a scale of likeability and social influence. They were also asked to imagine someone who either said negative things or positive things about people in their absence.

Not so much, apparently

What she found was that prolific gossipers were liked less than non-gossipers. And people who said negative things about the people they were tattling about were liked least of all. What’s more, they found that the biggest busybodies were thought of as less socially powerful than non-gossipers, especially if they passed on unfavourable rumours.

Cast out negativity

What Farley’s study also seems to imply is that we all intuitively recognize the negative force of negative people. Just being around these nay-sayers can have a powerful influence on our state of mind.

What other studies have shown is that negativity can affect our physical and mental health in many very negative ways:

  • decreased energy
  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • increased stress
  • decreased psychological well-being
  • decreased physical well-being
  • increased susceptibility to illness
  • decreased lifespan

So if there’s a gossiper in your midst, you might want to reflect on the results of Farley’s study—and politely back away.

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