Love to Gossip? It's Actually Good for Your Mental Health, Researchers Say
If you do it the right way, there's no need to feel guilty about this habit.
While gossiping is usually frowned upon, it's a guilty pleasure that many of us engage in from time to time. Whether you love to gab with your best friends about your partner's weird habits or dish about your coworkers, it's human nature to want to chat about anything and everything.
Although gossip has a negative reputation, recent research shows that it can actually be healthy. Read on to find out about a study that found spilling some tea can be good for your mental health—plus, what type of gossip isn't beneficial at all.
Researchers say gossip isn't always a bad thing.
In a study published in the April 2021 issue of Current Biology, Dartmouth researchers created an online game in which players had to work together to reach a goal. However, certain players were kept in the dark about other players' actions, forcing them to talk to the remaining players about what was going on. "Our inspiration was creating a lifelike scenario in which you're a member of a community and affected by the actions of all other community members, most of whom you rarely observe and engage with directly,"explained study co-author Eshin Jolly, PhD.
At the end of the game, Jolly and his co-author, Luke Chang, PhD, found that players who had to talk to each other about other players' actions felt more connected with each other. "By exchanging information with others, gossip is a way of forming relationships," Chang explained in a Dartmouth newsletter. "It involves trust and facilitates a social bond that is reinforced as further communication takes place."
Another study, published in the May 2019 issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, found that more often than not, gossip is a means of sharing information, rather than tearing down others. "Gossip tended to be neutral, rather than positive or negative, and about social information," the study authors wrote. According to the study findings, 85 percent of gossip is harmless small talk, while only 15 percent is mean-spirited.
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Gossip can help us connect with others.
If you've ever felt closer to someone after sharing a juicy piece of gossip, there's a reason, experts say. "Gossiping can feel like a quick way to connect, especially as people can seem more engaged in the conversation than when we're talking about the weather," Lauren Cook, MFT and founder of Heartship Psychological Services, tells Best Life. "We're social creatures, so we're naturally drawn to talking about other humans and our interactions with one another. Gossiping can also make us feel like we have elevated social status, as we feel like we have prized information that others will find valuable."
Gossip can also make you feel less lonely, explains psychiatrist Faisal Tai, MD. "Gossiping helps form connections between people, and in certain circumstances, informs people of things they did not know previously," he explains to Best Life. "Because it can make you feel less isolated and more connected, it appears that gossip has the potential to lift your mood and perhaps improve your mental health."
Gossip can help us become more empathetic.
Far from being harmful, gossip can be a tool that helps us learn about other people's lives, and perhaps to understand what it's like to walk in their shoes, Jolly told the Dartmouth newsletter. "Gossip can be useful because it helps people learn through the experiences of others, while enabling them to become closer to each other in the process," he noted.
Kalley Hartman, LMFT at Ocean Recovery, agrees. "Gossiping can give us an opportunity to practice empathy and understanding as we attempt to understand what other people are going through," she says. "It helps us gain perspective on how another person may feel about a certain situation, which in turn can help us be more compassionate when it comes to our own problems."
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Some types of gossip are harmful.
Of course, if the gossip you engage in is aimed at tearing others down, it's not good for your mental health—and in fact, it's harmful to your own well being. "When we're gossiping for the sheer sake of cutting down others, this only tends to worsen how we feel about ourselves," Hartman explains. "Additionally, when we speak poorly about others in front of our friends, it harms our friendships, as before long, our friends wonder, 'What could they be saying about me?"'
Tai agrees with this sentiment, saying, "When gossiping largely consists of consisting of negative sniping, it can make people feel guilty and ashamed of themselves. In addition, when family, friends, and even colleagues hear you gossiping about someone, it can make them wonder what you may be saying about them. This can make building trusting relationships harder or even impossible, and leave the person gossiping more socially isolated, and therefore potentially more depressed and anxious."