â€œIf you donâ€™t have anything nice to say, donâ€™t say anything at all.â€ â€œDonâ€™t gossip with friends; it only tells them that youâ€™ll also talk behind their back.â€ Proverbs or bad advice?
Itâ€™s true that gossip can be hurtful, petty, and even demeaning. But, according to this article in Scientific American MIND, it is also a useful part of our evolutionary history, bonding us to confidants and aiding us in social success and survival.
The article points out that our ancestors lived in small communities, without the travel and technology resources that we now have. They had to learn to survive (economically, socially, etc.) with the same small group of people for their entire lives. Social intelligence was likely key to success under such circumstances.
And evidence suggests that gossip is valuable in modern times as well. A study by Roy F. Baumeister of FSU shows that gossip is helpful in regard to learning unwritten social rules and develping group norms.
What about societyâ€™s fascination with pop culture? It’s cool to say you’re “above” following the latest gossip on Britney Spears, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. But historically, people that we see often and know a lot about are socially important to us. Is it possible that the desire to follow celebrity gossip is merely a collision of the advent of fame with our evolutionary instincts?
The article concludes:
When gossip is discussed seriously, the goal usually is to suppress the frequency with which it occurs in an attempt to avoid the undeniably harmful effects it often has in work groups and other social networks. This tendency, however, overlooks that gossip is part of who we are and an essential part of what makes groups function as well as they do. â€¦ Successful gossiping is about being a good team player and sharing key information with others in a way that will not be perceived as self-serving, and about understanding when to keep your mouth shut.â€
Do you agree?
Gossip: Does it have valuable functions, or is it a useless and even harmful phenomenon?