Pssst, Did You Hear That Gossiping Is Good For Your Health?

Researchers at UC Berkeley have determined that water cooler chatter and idle office tattling can have stress-relieving benefits, provided it is the correct sort of gossip that is helpful to others and not demeaning.

A study using four experimental settings led to constructive outcomes using “pro-social” gossip to describe people warning about deceitful behavior observed in others. This is different from the type of hushed chatter we do when we discuss the bad behavior of celebrities and co-workers, although it may not be quite as much fun, reports Jeannine Stein for the LA Times.

Fifty-one volunteers were hooked up to heart rate monitors during the first portion of the study. They watched as they checked the scores of two people playing a game. However, after a couple of rounds, they noted that one player was cheating and hoarding all the points.

The heart rates of these observers increased as they witnessed the cheating and most seized the opportunity to slip a note to a new player warning that his or her opponent was unlikely to play fair. The experience of passing on the information reduced their heart rate and stress levels, reports Tamara Cohen for the Daily Mail.

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

One-hundred and eleven volunteers filled out questionnaires about their level of altruism and cooperativeness for the second part of the study. They then observed monitors showing the scores from three rounds of the game, and saw that one player was cheating.

The more “pro-social´ observers reported feeling stressed by watching the cheating and then relieved when given a chance to pass a note to the next player, writes Nick Collins, science correspondent for The Telegraph.

Matthew Feinberg, a social psychologist and lead author of the paper, wasn´t surprised. “A central reason for engaging in gossip was to help others out — more so than just to talk trash about the selfish individual,” he 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. We shouldn´t feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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