Life

This is what really happens to your brain when you gossip

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Kayleigh Dray
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“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.”

So said Socrates all those years ago. But it seems the founding father of Western philosophy didn’t know everything: according to research, gossiping could actually a good thing.

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Anyone who’s seen Mean Girls and (of course) Gossip Girl might assume that the long-term effects of gossiping are always negative, and that gossips do not have the best of intentions when they start spilling salacious details by the water cooler.

However a group of Stanford researchers (possibly keen to justify their own gossipy behaviour) have studied the behavioural outcome of gossiping in group contexts and, as it turns out, gossiping can actually be a positive tool.

When used effectively, it can stamp out bullying, protect “nice people” and encourage group cooperation.

It's good to gossip, say scientists

It's good to gossip, say scientists

Speaking in Psychological Science, lead researcher Matthew Feinberg said: “Groups that allow their members to gossip sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t.

“And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracise untrustworthy members. While both of these behaviours can be misused, our findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society.”

Hmm, that makes sense, we guess – nobody wants to become the focus of negative gossip. But there’s another very good reason to get your teeth stuck into some serious tattling, and it’s this: gossiping can make you feel good.

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The University of Pavia conducted some research into the effects of gossiping, on women solely, and they discovered that chit-chatting with friends and co-workers causes the brain to release a biochemical known as oxytocin.

As in, yes, the same ‘cuddle chemical’ that’s released after sex.

Dr Natasha Brondino, who led the study, explained that oxytocin helps bring people closer together, as it engenders feelings of trust, friendship, love and generosity. Brain oxytocin also appears to reduce stress responses, including anxiety, and research published in Psychopharmacology has found that intranasal oxytocin improves self-perception in social situations and increases personality traits such as warmth, trust, altruism, and openness. Which means that, essentially, the neuro-chemical is vital in helping us to adapt to highly emotive situations.

Perhaps more interesting of all, though, is the fact that the positive impact of gossiping does not change depending on the person’s personality: you don’t have to be a full-on Regina George to reap the benefits.

“Psychological characteristics, e.g. empathy, autistic traits, perceived stress, envy, did not affect oxytocin rise in the gossip condition,” said Brondino.

Consider us convinced. Step aside, Dan Humphrey: there’s a new Gossip Girl in town…

Images: Getty/Rex Features

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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