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Gossip about Others can Boost Self-Reflection and Growth

Update Date: Oct 24, 2014 11:44 AM EDT

Gossip is a huge part of many people's lives, whether they actively participate in it or not. Since talking or hearing about other people's lives affects almost everyone, a team of researchers set out to examine just how much negative and positive gossip can influence people's lives. Contrary to popular belief that gossiping is bad, the team reported that gossip about others could actually encourage self-reflection and individual growth.

In the first part of the study, the researchers instructed participants to recall a situation where they heard either good or bad gossip about another person. After thinking about the event, the participants had to self-measure three factors related to hearing the gossip, which were self-improvement, self-promotion and self-protection. The team discovered that people who heard positive gossip reported a higher self-improvement value. People who received negative gossip had improved self-promotion and self-protection values.

"Hearing positive stories about others may be informative, because they suggest ways to improve oneself," lead researcher Elena Martinescu explained in the press release. "Hearing negative gossip may be flattering, because it suggests that others (the gossip target) may function less well than we do. However, negative gossip may also be threatening to the self, because it suggests a malign social environment in which one may easily fall victim to negative treatments."

In the second part of the study, participants were asked to be sales agents. They were given either positive or negative gossip regarding another sales agent's performance. The researchers reported that hearing good and bad gossip had the same effects on the participants' self-improvement, self-promotion and self-protection values. The team also looked into the role of gender.

Martinescu explained, "Women who receive negative gossip experience higher self-protection concerns possibly because they believe they might experience a similar fate as the person being the target of the gossip, while men who receive positive gossip experience higher fear, perhaps because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening."

The researchers concluded that people should accept gossip but remain critical about the effects that gossiping can have on themselves and others. The study was published in the journal, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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