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The Upside of Gossip, with Researcher, Frank McAndrew | Ep 30

How can gossip be a good thing in a marriage? What are some of the powerful benefits as well as dangers of gossiping in relationships? Where does the interest in gossiping come from? In this podcast episode, I speak with Frank McAndrew about the upside of gossip.

MEET FRANK MCANDREW

Frank McAndrew is the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College and an elected Fellow of several professional organizations, including the Association for Psychological Science (APS). McAndrew is an evolutionary social psychologist whose research is guided by the simple desire to make sense of everyday life, and he is currently studying gossip, aggression, and creepiness.

His research has appeared in dozens of professional journals and it is regularly featured in popular media outlets such as The New Yorker, NPR, the BBC, The New York Times, The Atlantic, and NBC’s Today Show. He has written for many popular print and online magazines, including Time, CNN, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, PBS Newshour, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The New Republic, and Scientific American. McAndrew is also a contributing expert for Psychwire and The Conversation.

Consistent with his long tenure at a liberal arts college, Professor McAndrew is an award-winning teacher who is particularly proud of the fact that more than 100 of his former students have gone on to complete a doctoral degree in psychology or a closely related field.

Visit his website, connect on Twitter.

IN THIS PODCAST

SUMMARY

  • What is gossip?
  • Gossip in evolution
  • Gossip in marriage
  • How is gossip a social skill?

WHAT IS GOSSIP

Most people have a very negative impression of the word. When they hear the word gossip, they immediately think of negative horrible stuff that only bad people do. In fact, I think most people probably define gossip as something that other people do … very few people say that [they] gossip. (Frank McAndrew)

For the most part, people assume that gossip is negative or is only done in bad taste. No one would openly call themselves an avid gossip, even though almost everyone dips into it occasionally.

Overall, gossip can be expressed as a group of people sharing concerns over a situation or person. There are some research-based qualities found in general gossip:

  1. Talking about people. Gossip relates to specifically discussing people, whereas talking about events in the physical world may be labeled as rumors.
  2. Talking about people that are not present. It is not possible to gossip about someone with that person.
  3. Gossip is mostly about things that someone can make moral judgments about. It involves people making decisions of approval or disapproval over what a person did or said.
  4. Gossip is irresistible for most people and even if you choose not to take part, almost everyone is somewhat interested in hearing what is fresh of the press in their community.

GOSSIP IN EVOLUTION

Gossip is kind of a universal thing. Everybody seems to be interested in it for the same reasons, now who you are interested in varies a little bit by how old you are and what your sex is. We like information most about people that are our own age and of our same gender, because these are the people we have to keep track of. (Frank McAndrew)

It may seem strange to modern people, however in the past gossip was the best way to keep track of people who you are “in competition” with, for partners, food, relationships, communities, and so forth.

In the past, it was in your interest to know who was dating who, where this person does their dirty business, who were their allies, and in which ways they were successful or unsuccessful.

For early human beings, in order to be successful in the community, you had to know what was going on in the lives of other people.

Being able to manage important social information became a vital trait that led to creating and maintaining successful communities, and therefore it was the trait that was passed down through human evolution.

GOSSIP IN MARRIAGE

Sharing important information through gossip is a sign of trust. You are sharing sensitive information with someone in the hopes that they will not weaponize it and use it against you. It is possible to gossip in the negative as well as in the positive.

Positive gossip in marriage:

You can talk behind your partner’s back and tell their friends and family that they are working hard, are doing well at work, and may be on track for an important promotion, that would be positive gossip. 

[But] if you are sharing bad stuff [about your partner], you have broken one of the most sacred promises that is implicit in that marriage and I think this is, on top of whatever other problems you got, this is really going to complicate things. (Frank McAndrew)

Negative gossip in marriage:

As well as talking badly about your partner behind their back, if you do not gossip with your partner, it is a sign that you do not trust them. In this way, gossiping between partners is essential to maintain mutual trust between both people.

Think about who you are sharing information with within your marriage.

HOW IS GOSSIP A SOCIAL SKILL?

Even though there are some social benefits to gossip, the way in which you gossip is also important because you can easily come across as the villain while you are trying to share important information.

You want people to see you as a responsible gossip who doesn’t blab everything they know indiscriminately and who also is just telling the truth rather than being vindictive and making up bad things. (Frank McAndrew)

People will connect with you and your information more when you talk about it in a matter-of-fact way, instead of painting the person you are talking about in a bad light.

Often people who are good gossipers are usually very popular people because they do not trash the people they talk about and are therefore seen in a positive light.

USEFUL LINKS

About your host:

Susan Orenstein, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan Orenstein is a licensed psychologist and relationship expert  with over twenty years of experience. In 2005, she founded Orenstein Solutions, a private counseling practice in North Carolina that serves children, teens, adults and couples. 

She created the After the First Marriage Podcast to support individuals through the significant life transition of divorce. She whole-heartedly believes that “happily ever after” is an option for everyone, and is dedicated to helping divorcées regain the confidence to pursue a fulfilling future after the first marriage. 

Whether you listen to the podcast, join the Facebook community, or follow along on Twitter,  you’re in the right place!

Thanks for Listening!

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