Scottish scientists discover secret to good gossip

David and Victoria Beckham were among the celebrities cited in the experiment by researchers. Picture: Getty
David and Victoria Beckham were among the celebrities cited in the experiment by researchers. Picture: Getty
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SCOTTISH scientists conducting a study on gossip have found that tittle-tattle is more likely to occur if the subject being discussed contains a combination of novelty and familiarity.

Researchers at Glasgow University and the University of the West of Scotland asked participants to read stories manufactured for the experiment, where 100 popular US and UK celebrities, including Barack and Michelle Obama and David and Victoria Beckham, were involved in a number of false stories, such as getting pregnant, having a row in public, or being caught with drugs. Non-celebrity figures were placed in the same scenarios. The celebrity and non-celebrity subjects were also placed in everyday scenarios such as shopping or getting coffee.

When participants were asked to read the stories and tell scientists how likely they would be to share these stories with friends.

They were also asked to remark on their opinion on the protagonists before and after the false story. They were also asked to comment on the predictability of each tale.

The study results suggested that the preconceived view of a character and the predictability of a story regulated how likely someone was to gossip about a story.

The researchers said a “key function of gossip may be to maintain our reputation systems by receiving updates on the recent behaviour of our acquaintances”.

Dr Bo Yao, one of the researchers, said: “Intuitively it’s not surprising that we are more likely to gossip about familiar people and interesting stories.

“However, we are much more likely to gossip when a story unites a familiar person with an interesting scenario.”

Dr Sara Sereno, senior author of the study, said: “Gossip revolves around its content and its target. To us, a good piece of gossip should be judged as information that’s worthy of being passed on to those who are well-placed to appreciate its content. In other words, gossip is interesting stuff about someone we care about.

“Gossip plays a big role in how we manage our social reputations. We hope our study provides a first step in understanding the specific factors that influence our gossiping behaviour.”

The study, Familiarity with Interest Breeds Gossip: Contributions of Emotion, Expectation, and Reputation, was published in the online science journal PLoS ONE.

The team of researchers also included Professor Paddy O’Donnell and Dr Phil McAleer from the University of Glasgow and Dr Graham Scott from the University of the West of Scotland.


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