Gos­sip­ing takes hour a day for men, women

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY DAN BOY­LAN

Call it the scut­tle­butt hour. Peo­ple en­gage in ver­bal gos­sip about 52 min­utes a day, with women and men gen­er­ally dish­ing the same amount of dirt, and richer and poorer folks equally air­ing oth­ers’ dirty laun­dry, ac­cord­ing to a study.

Although idle chat­ter is com­monly seen as neg­a­tive, the study adds to a grow­ing body of psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search that has ex­am­ined gos­sip’s broader so­cial func­tions, in­clud­ing how so­ci­ety deals with anx­i­eties and un­cer­tain­ties.

“Gos­sip has a bad rep­u­ta­tion be­cause it can be mean-spir­ited, but the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of gos­sip is neu­tral,” study co-au­thor Me­gan Rob­bins told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Ms. Rob­bins is a psy­chol­o­gist and re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side. Her study was pub­lished this month in the jour­nal So­cial Psy­cho­log­i­cal and Per­son­al­ity Sci­ence.

She and a team of re­searchers fo­cused on who en­gages in ver­bal gos­sip the most, what top­ics are dis­cussed and how of­ten it hap­pens.

Their anal­y­sis ex­plored more than 4,000 in­stances of gos­sip among 467 peo­ple who agreed to wear por­ta­ble record­ing de­vices for two to five days. The 269 women and 198 men who par­tic­i­pated in the study ranged in age from 18 to 58.

Build­ing upon the­o­ries about so­cial learn­ing, in­clud­ing what type of in­for­ma­tion and be­hav­ior gets peo­ple pun­ished, the re­searchers coded gos­sip for pos­i­tive, neg­a­tive and neu­tral sen­ti­ments; by whether the sub­ject of the gos­sip was an ac­quain­tance or celebrity; and by topic, which in­cluded so­cial in­for­ma­tion, phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance and achieve­ment.

About 14% of all con­ver­sa­tions in­volved gos­sip, mak­ing up al­most an hour for ev­ery 16 wak­ing hours.

As would be ex­pected, those who iden­ti­fied as ex­tro­verts tended to be the most fre­quent gos­sipers.

What stood out about the work, Ms. Rob­bins said, was that al­most three­fourths of the gos­sip was seen to be neu­tral and “over­whelm­ingly about an ac­quain­tance as op­posed to a celebrity.”

“In many cases, gos­sip could be thought of as news,” she said. “Th­ese are smaller sto­ries that peo­ple need to know, so they are con­vey­ing in­for­ma­tion.”

Com­ment­ing on the study, Stan­ford Univer­sity so­cial psy­chol­o­gist Robb Willer said the spread of ru­mors about peo­ple who have be­haved badly al­lows friends and ac­quain­tances to know whom to trust and whom to avoid.

“The threat of gos­sip de­ters bad be­hav­ior in the first place as peo­ple seek to avoid de­vel­op­ing a bad rep­u­ta­tion,” said Mr. Willer, who has pub­lished ex­ten­sive re­search on the sub­ject. “Of course, all gos­sip is not good or func­tional for so­ci­ety.”

That ap­pears to be the case for the more than 90% of Amer­i­can teens who en­gage daily in a wide range of on­line ac­tiv­i­ties on Face­book, Twit­ter, Snapchat and In­sta­gram — where cy­ber­bul­ly­ing is per­va­sive, re­searchers say.

Bul­ly­ing has long been a part of ado­les­cent life, but the on­line ver­sion has made it more dan­ger­ous be­cause of the in­ti­macy and im­me­di­acy cre­ated by ev­er­p­re­sent smart­phones and so­cial me­dia, child psy­chol­o­gists say.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, 59% of U.S. teens have per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced at least one of six types of abu­sive on­line be­hav­iors. The most com­mon was name-call­ing.

In a poll re­leased late last year, Pew found that 42% of teens said they were called of­fen­sive names on­line or via their cell­phones, and 32% said some­one had spread false ru­mors about them on the in­ter­net.

“With­out ques­tion, cy­ber­bul­ly­ing is a prob­lem and a con­cern that wor­ries men­tal health ex­perts, school psy­chol­o­gists, par­ents, teach­ers, stu­dents, ev­ery­one,” Katherine Cowan, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of School Psy­chol­o­gists, told The Times.

Among other key find­ings of Ms. Rob­bins’ study was that women en­gaged in more neu­tral gos­sip than men and that younger peo­ple tended to gos­sip more neg­a­tively than older peo­ple.

“As peo­ple get older, they get more stable and ma­ture,” she said. “That is con­sis­tent with psy­cho­log­i­cal stud­ies.”

She also dis­pelled the stereo­type that poorer, less-ed­u­cated peo­ple gos­sip more than those who are wealth­ier and bet­ter ed­u­cated.

“Re­gard­less of how much money peo­ple have, they gos­sip the same amount,” she said.

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