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Eyes Gravitate Towards People Linked To Negative Gossip

May 22, 2011

Scientists led by a neuroscientist at Northeastern University have found that people unconsciously pay more attention to faces of others who they have heard negative gossip about.

They believe the reasons behind this goes back to evolution when it was useful to know who to avoid and keep an eye on.

The team asked people to look at pictures of faces as neutral as possible, some of which had been linked to negative gossip, some to positive and some to neutral.

The negative gossip included: They “threw a chair at his classmate”, the positive :”helped an elderly woman with her groceries” and neutral: “passed a man on the street”.

The researchers found that people’s eyes subconsciously lingered over the face connected with negative gossip.

They said this was higher than those linked to “Gossip is a vital thread in human social interaction.”

“As a type of instructed learning, gossip is a way to learn socially relevant information about other people’s character or personality without having to directly experience their triumphs and misadventures.”

“Whether delicious or destructive, gossip is functional. It provides human beings with information about others in the absence of direct experience, allowing us to live in very large groups.”

“It is believed that gossip was important for social cohesion during the course of human evolution.”

The team showed volunteers pictures of faces while describing negative, neutral or positive things the person in the picture had done.

The results found that the volunteers registered the faces associated with negative gossip for the longest period of time, compared to images that were either neutral or positive.

“Faces previously paired with descriptions of negative social behaviors were prioritized,” the study authors concluded.

The team reported their findings in the journal Science.

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