Spill the tea!

By Jesse DhurLex Kleren

Gossip mostly gets a bad rap today. However, popular opinion about idle talk contrasts with scientific insights that praise its prosocial motives. For this first part, Lëtzebuerger Journal looked at the science of gossip and chitchatted with a communication researcher, a psychologist, and an anthropologist.

You do it, we do it, everyone does it: talking about others in their absence. Estimates suggest that approximately two thirds of people's conversation time is devoted to chatting about others who aren’t present. And while that most popular pastime takes on various shapes and functions, gossip as in idle talking and telling tales behind people's backs has acquired a shady reputation, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, the devious conspiration at the coffee party, colleagues sneakily spreading rumours in the workplace, or tabloid news revealing celebrity intrigues hardly bespeak benevolence and are intuitively condemned by most of us. Yet, in its less malicious form, gossiping is scientifically considered to be the foundation of human social relationships.

At the root of every gossip that is spread lies a conversation. "Conversation, that is, an informal exchange of ideas between individuals, is the main way for us humans to socialise in order to take part in society. Through conversations, we develop our perception on certain subjects and society itself and learn about different points of view which is at the base of our decision-making and opinion-forming, " says Stéphanie Lukasik, researcher at the University of Luxembourg with a doctor in information, communication, and media studies. She is author of the scientific work L'influence des leaders d'opinion: Un modèle pour l'étude des usages et de la réception des réseaux socionumériques.

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