Many of us are bashing Paula Deen for her diet choices, raking Mitt Romney over the coals for acting like every other politician, or clamoring over reasons why Jillian Michaels decided to leave The Doctors. You might be shaking your head if you are one of the rare Americans who doesn’t really care who has diabetes, or who lied to the media, or who is keeping their personal decisions private. But, according to scientists from the University of California in Berkeley, gossip may be good for our health.
Gossip is defined as idle talk or rumor about the personal or private affairs of others. Gossip is also referred to as tattling or reporting someone who was caught in the act of doing something wrong. Often times we tell ourselves to leave it be, because our grandmother told us that if we don’t have anything nice to say about others we should just not say anything at all.
The scientists of UC Berkeley set up several trials with volunteers to test the mental and physical effects of gossiping. Subjects were asked to watch two people playing a game, one of which who cheated. Subjects then had the decision to either let the next player know he or she was going to be playing with a cheater, or just let it pass. Results indicated that voicing the incidence of wrongdoings by others actually made them feel better by lowering their heart rates and calming their anxiety about the matter.
Is this why so many of us are obsessed with gossip and idle chatter? Perhaps our heart rates do lower and our anxiety decreases when we blow the whistle on somebody else, but other studies suggest we may get more of a self-serving and addictive high from digging up dirt on someone we know, or more likely, despise.
As a role in social order, gossip may be helpful for many of us to keep an eye on those who don’t deserve our trust. It is a way to give us a subtle warning about someone who may do us wrong, and that seems perfectly acceptable. However, excavating stuff that should be none of our business couldn’t possibly contribute to our health. In fact, it is believed to be damaging to our self-esteem in the long run because it increases feelings of guilt and shame.
Next time you hear about someone’s misfortunes, leave them alone and keep your mouth shut. Next time you learn that someone has cheated or lied to you or a loved one, feel free to share and get it off your chest. It will not only help you, it will benefit those who cross paths with untrustworthy people.
January 19th, 2012