To some, gossip is its own form of currency. You never know when a casual social event will turn into an exhibition of shared secrets. Let’s be real — if you go to the University of Miami, you’ve probably overheard some campus gossip. But why do we engage in gossip culture? Is it just a fun way to pass the time, or is the urge to gossip imbedded in our DNA?
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What do pool parties, catching up with your bestie, Richter Library study sessions with friends and
“Gossip Girl” all have in common? If you said gossip, give yourself a gold star. Though we might feel guilty about it, there’s no denying that gossip is a critical part of our daily lives. It’s everywhere — from frat parties to Dooley classrooms. Gossip lurks around every corner.
“People love to talk to each other and it’s what entertains us most,” said junior Alek Lape.“To know about what’s going on in everyone’s personal lives must have a mysterious inspiration behind it.”
According to the research paper “Research on Gossip: Taxonomy, Methods, and Future Directions,” “To function efficiently in a complex social environment, humans require information about those around them.”
Social environments don’t get much more complex than college. In college, everybody is trying to figure themselves out. For most, it’s the first time being away from home for an extended period of time. This freedom has many advantages, but comes with the disadvantage of being completely disoriented while trying to navigate the social culture of a new environment. So, to get the scoop on what’s going on, people tend to engage in gossip culture.
But what exactly is gossip? Dr. Simon Howard, professor of psychology at the University of Miami, provided an answer.
“In Psychology, people think of gossip as information that’s being transmitted primarily by other people that’s negative and that person is not present,” Howard said. “If there’s a person that’s being talked about, and they are not a part of the conversation … then that is gossip.”
Gossip is all fun and games until you’re on the receiving end. Knowing people talk about you behind your back can have a lot of negative effects, including anxiety.
“Growing up in a place where I knew I wasn’t going to have any privacy and everyone was going to have an opinion definitely made me a little anxious,” said sophomore Avery Seibert. “It made me much more aware of whom I keep close and those I choose to confide in.”
If not ourselves, most of us know people who have been negatively impacted by gossip. It hurts to be talked about behind your back. So, if gossip is inherently harmful, why do we do it?
The reason we gossip can be tied back to the idea of navigating complex social environments.
“It can be a way to learn information about other people,” said Howard. “There are so many people that we can’t always be watching or know what they are doing, so now we’re communicating about other people through gossip.”
In 2019, researchers at the University of California Riverside conducted a study to track frequency of gossip using Electronically Activated Recorders. The study gathered sound bites from daily conversations of 467 participants. These sound bites were then labeled “gossip” if the conversation involved discussion about someone who was not present. The study concluded that 14 percent of these daily conversations were gossip.
Now, this isn’t surprising news — it’s clear that people love to gossip. But what is surprising is that the study reported that almost 75 percent of gossip was neutral. Neutral gossip doesn’t take positive or negative stances. For example, someone moving apartments would be neutral gossip.
On average, if three-fourths of gossip is neutral gossip, then is gossip really the enemy? Or is it just how we as a society engage in gossip?
“Gossip is a behavior that we engage in that we subconsciously think will make us more likable to the other person,” said sophomore Ally Gallagher. “We perceive this behavior as prosocial because I think gossip is used to create a common enemy, which is neatly advantageous to us. We think that if we have more people on ‘our side’ then we are stronger — safety in numbers.”
Whatever you may think about gossip, it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay. We can’t tell you not to gossip because we’re guilty of it too. Practically everyone gossips at one point or another, and that’s never going to change. But while you can’t control if other people gossip, you can control how you choose to engage in gossip culture.
“The best thing you can do is to make people aware that its gossip and its temporary and that it’s an
opinion,” said junior Arielle Rohan. “It’s in the listener’s responsibility to not really take it in because people are going to talk regardless.”
If you engage in gossip culture, be conscious of what you’re saying and be kind to the people that aren’t around to hear you. A bit of kindness behind closed doors goes a long way because one day, you might be the topic of conversation.