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Think Gossip Is Harmless? Research Says Otherwise

Across offices in every industry and workers in every function few things are constant. But one of them is definitely gossip. Talking about other people helps pass the time in nearly every office, and psychologists have shown that the practice isn't always pernicious. Gossipers report larger, more supportive social networks and talking about others has been shown to help people work out what the acceptable boundaries of behavior in a group are. And as everyone knows, sharing a juicy morsel of gossip is a great way to bond.

But a new study illustrates that being the office gossip does come with a dark side. To find out how gossipers were perceived by others, researchers asked 128 participants to complete a questionnaire rating various personality traits of a person they knew who was either a prolific gossip or particularly close-mouthed. Because the word has negative connotations for some, 'gossip' was never used. Instead the participants were told to think of someone who "spent a lot of time (or little time) talking about other people when they were not around."

The results show that though people may enjoy the inside information a gossip shares, they don't actually respect them much as people. The BPS Research Digest blog reports:

Prolific gossipers were liked less than non-gossipers, and negative gossipers were liked least of all. On a 13-item liking scale, with each item scored between 1 and 9, the negative gossipers averaged 37 points, the non-gossipers averaged 47. Moreover, prolific gossipers were perceived as less socially powerful than non-gossipers, especially if they were negative gossipers.
So, what's the takeaway? Sure, sharing some gossip can help pass a less than exciting day at the office, but doing so will often also result in others viewing you as weak and a bit nasty -- not exactly the person most likely to win that big promotion.

Of course, this was only a small study and measured opinions of the very gossipy and the very close-mouthed. The researchers warn that further investigations may show that a moderate level of gossip is a happy medium that reinforces social bonds without harming the reputation of the gossiper.

(And if there's any guys out there with old-fashioned notions who think gossip is a topic that applies more to the ladies, you should know that studies show men actually out-gossip women and that men's conversations -- or at least the conversations of British men in a recent study -- are 80 percent gossip.)

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user DAXKO, CC 2.0)
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