Turns out good gossip does exist, according to a new study: ScienceAlert
Talking about someone behind your back may seem mean or dishonest, but it doesn’t have to be. If the information shared is based on truth, it can actually have a positive effect on our relationships with others, according to new research.
The findings are based on a mathematical model of gossip that recently won the Ig Nobel Prize, a satirical prize designed to first make people laugh and then make them think – much like gossip itself.
Whispering about others is generally frowned upon, but this sneaky form of communication is also an essential part of human interaction. Given the magnitude of gossip, chances are it’s useful in some way.
In fact, a growing body of research demonstrates some of the important social functions of gossip.
For example, it could be a good way to judge another person’s reliability. If someone shares false information about a third party for personal gain, the listener might be able to spot the lies and come to distrust the liar – a form of social punishment.
Alternatively, if someone shares true information about a third party, it could improve trust between individuals, thus promoting and supporting group cooperation and teamwork.
Using a simplified mathematical model, an international team of researchers set out to explore when gossip is likely to be honest and/or dishonest, and how those scenarios ultimately play out for everyone involved.
The model was mainly developed by Paul van Lange from the Vrij Universiteit Amsterdam, Szabolcs Számadó from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Junhui Wu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.
Together they faked gossip in the form of a triangle. One corner base of the triangle is the talker, the other corner base is the addressee, and the apex of the triangle is the third person being talked about while not present.
This model was then used to explore four distinct social interactions using four games that captured the possible repercussions of gossip.
In other words, whether the exchange benefited the person who heard the gossip or whoever it was, or whether it cost one or both of them dearly.
With modeling, the researchers tested their hypothesis: that gossips would choose to spread honest truths or lies to maximize their own benefit without harming their reputation, while weighing what connection they had to the other two people involved.
Generally, talkers decide to be honest when they share a goal with the other two parties, making their success (or failure) intertwined.
But when their goals didn’t match the recipient and target of their gossip, they were much more likely to spew lies.
“For example, you may be competing with a colleague for a prized promotion, where only one of you may get the job,” says author and metascientist Leo Tiokhin from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Down.
“In such situations, people are negatively interdependent: the failure of one person means the success of others. Such situations can be expected to lead to dishonest gossip to harm colleagues, or gossip honest when the gossip content is already negative.”
The models used by the researchers are only theoretical and do not reflect the complexity of social interactions because they are based on several assumptions. For example, the recipient of gossip is always expected to believe what they hear.
Moreover, the chatterbox always knew whether others around them were likely to cooperate or not.
“These assumptions were made for traceability, and they could certainly be modified in future extensions of our work,” says Tiokhin.
Using game theory, the researchers found evidence that gossips can make optimal decisions about whether or not to lie, depending on the situation and how convenient it is for them.
Some studies support this idea. For example, some research suggests that gossip about rivals is more likely to be dishonest, with the gossip tending to misrepresent the other person’s actions or intentions when those intentions are actually good.
On the other hand, other studies have shown that gossiping about loved ones is more likely to be positive and could make an interconnected group even more united.
“[T]“The field is still in the early stages of understanding the situational underpinnings of individuals’ strategies for sharing honest or dishonest gossip,” admit the authors.
“We show that honesty is determined by the marginal cost/benefit resulting from honest or dishonest gossip.”
The study was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences.