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Gossip might have health benefits -- if it’s the right kind

Gossiping is bad, right? Not so fast. Spreading information might have some positive effects, such as lowering stress -- if it’s the right kind of gossip.

A study published online recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the way people gossiped in four experimental settings led to constructive outcomes. Researchers from UC Berkeley used the term “prosocial” gossip to describe people warning about deceitful behavior observed in others. It’s different from the type of rumormongering we do when we talk about the bad behavior of celebrities, although let’s not count that out as a good time.

The scenarios in which the study participants took part involved observing others playing a game in which cheating took place. They had the opportunity to pass “gossip notes” to warn players about the behavior. In the first situation, when participants (who were hooked up to heart rate monitors) witnessed the cheating their heart rates went up, but after passing the notes the rates went down.

“Passing on the gossip note ameliorated their negative feelings and tempered their frustration,” study co-author Robb Willer said in a news release. “Gossiping made them feel better.”

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“A central reason for engaging in gossip was to help others out -- more so than just to talk trash about the selfish individual,” lead author Matthew Feinberg said. “Also, the higher participants scored on being altruistic, the more likely they were to experience negative emotions after witnessing the selfish behavior and the more likely they were to engage in the gossip.”

Feinberg added, ""We shouldn’t feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of.”


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