Hey did you hear that Pewdiepie is a Nazi? What? What about that Keemstar is a pedophile? Get out. Or did you hear that Zoie Burgher is a slut? Say what? Did you know that Snaggleteef is a Nazi pedophile
slut? Well yeah what else is new, everyone knows
that. To the best of my knowledge, none of those
are true – but they are nice pieces of epic gossip that would get me all the views if
I was serious. So let’s take a look at gossip. Social mammals increase their social bonds
through grooming. When they pick lice off of each other or clean
each other’s fur, the hormone oxytocin is released which increases the social bond with
that other animal. Humans don’t pick lice off of each other,
very often, but we are highly social. As it turns out, when we gossip with each
other, oxytocin is also released. You may have heard of that hormone before,
because it’s also released during kissing and sexy time, the ultimate social bonding. But it’s also released when we’re just
trading information about other people. It’s not released during boring conversations
about math or the weather – it’s only released during gossip. So it must serve some sort of evolutionary
purpose. Social animals, particularly mammals, keep
track of fairness. If after a day of unsuccessful foraging, you
come back to the den and another animal shares their find with you, they’ll remember – that
guy owes me. If you don’t return the favor when they
have an unsuccessful day, they’ll remember that too. And the next time you come around looking
for handouts… Luckily, in an animal group, if you wrong
one person, you’re probably still going to be okay since there will be others willing
to help you who don’t know about your transgressions Humans take it to the next level. In your brain there is an entire excel spreadsheet
of fairness. People who owe you, people you owe, but what
makes us human? We can also keep track of the favors and misdeeds
of people who we’ve never had a direct social interaction with… through gossip. Gossip is a form of karma. It’s what makes the “what goes around
comes around” phrase true. In an animal social group, you can cross one
animal here or there and be stingy about your catch and still be accepted by the group and
probably be fine. It would seem that evolution rewards greediness
in this case. But for humans, if you wrong one person, the
entire social group will become aware of it. Which makes the cost of greed much higher
than the cost of cooperation. Gossip is both a punishment and a protection. If you wrong someone, the cost of that wrong
will be very high. And hearing that someone has wronged someone
else is a bit of highly useful information, since it protects you from possibly getting
taken advantage of in the future. Gossip is an essential part of human social
interaction. Almost everyone has a negative view of gossip
– everyone hates gossip and drama. Yet, almost everyone participates in gossip
(Haidt, 2006). Almost three quarters of everything we talk
about with another person is gossip about a third person. Gossip is a social currency that you must
trade in if you want to be a successful social being. And just like real currency, some people are
high-volume traders and some people only deal in it when they have to – but in the end,
you have to play the game. What game? Tit for tat. The reciprocity and fairness game. Think of the phrase, do unto others as you
would have them do unto you. If someone helps you, you help them. If they brush you off, you brush them off. The problem with this approach though is that
once one person wrongs another, nobody will ever cooperate again. Which is why humans are a little more forgiving
and often play a slightly different version of the game, tit for two tats. (grow up) Meaning
that if you do a favor for someone and they don’t repay you, you usually give them another
chance. Gossip however, often counts as that first
tat. If you hear that someone took advantage of
someone else, you might think “well they didn’t do anything to me, so they’re still
okay in my book.” But then when they wrong you – that one
thing you heard about and the one that was personally done to you suddenly both count,
and you no longer trust that person. So then you perpetuate the cycle by telling
people about that transgression, so less – *fewer* – fewer people trust that person. Which is why gossip is such an important social
currency, and funny enough, tit for tat also applies to gossip. When someone tells you an important piece
of information about someone else, you feel compelled to tell them something you also
know. This increases the bond between you and that
person, as you’re both trading in social currency, and protects you from being taken
advantage of in the future. Because almost always, this gossip is about
the social and moral wrongdoings of others. 90% of all gossip is negative (Haidt, 2006). It could be about the sexual conduct of someone
else, which is often the case in high school and college. Someone’s work ethic or lack thereof, as
is the case in almost any workplace. Or virtually anything else you can think of
– hygiene, manners, drug habits, weight changes, you name it. The point is that it’s almost always negative,
in order to protect you and others from that person. There is little to be gained from telling
others that someone is a hard worker or is hung like a horse. But there is a lot to be gained from telling
people that someone is hung like a Shetland pony – actually that’s probably still
a little too big, how about hung like a shrimp – or that they sleep around a lot, or that
they’re lazy. Gossiping about positive information only
increases competition for that good person’s attention. Whereas gossiping about negative information
protects everyone – from a boring sexual experience, a diseased sexual experience,
or from working as a group and ending up having to do more than your fair share. Sharing this information costs nothing, while
increasing your own social bonds and social standing. People who trade in a lot of social currency
feel more powerful and are more socially connected. They’re the people who know everything about
everyone. The first person you talk to at a new job
or school in order to get the information you need to succeed socially in that environment. Much like moving to a new country, in the
beginning, this information costs you – usually by providing information of your own, who
you are, what you used to do, are you married, and so on. But once you’re in the social circle, you
can trade in that same currency. But there are other, more valuable and riskier
currencies that you can trade in. Like secrets. If normal gossip is every day paper money,
secrets are stocks and bonds. If you trade a secret with someone, your bond
with that person is made doubly strong… and it strengthens the longer you keep that
secret, like earning interest. Let’s say you are person A, and person B
tells you a secret… something really embarrassing like they have a third nipple. The longer you keep that person’s confidence,
the more social currency interest you accrue. You can trade that secret with other people,
like persons C and D, where you can gain even more interest. However, the more people you tell, the less
valuable that stock becomes. The less people – *fewer* – fewer people who
know about the secret, the more valuable it is. But if person B ever finds out that you’ve
been spreading their secret, you run the risk of completely devaluing your stock. While you may still have a good relationship
with C and D, LMNOP now view you as untrustworthy. While men and women both gossip about basically
the same topics – sex, hygiene, and appearance – there is a big difference in WHO men and
women gossip about. Women are more likely to trade in secrets
about close friends and family. Whereas men usually gossip about acquaintances
or public figures and celebrities. Another way to artificially inflate your social
currency is by trading in counterfeit. Also known as lying. The more juicy the lie, the more currency
you gain. But if people ever find out you’re dealing
in counterfeit currency, your entire social reputation is ruined. This is unfortunately where most of the negative
stigma around gossip comes from. Lies and rumors. People rarely seem to think that positive
or even true anecdotal stories, positive or negative, count as gossip. But it is all gossip. Many people also fail to realize that being
part of a fandom also lends itself to gossip. The gossip you trade does not necessarily
have to be about people you physically interact with. If you watch reality TV shows and when an
episode is over you can’t wait to slut shame one of the real housewives to your friends
on facebook or you watch a certain show on HBO and can’t wait to tell people about
how someone died, that’s gossip. You may not realize it, but those fictional
characters are, at least in your mind, real people that you have social bonds with. And the other fans, the people you gossip
and predict what will happen next with, are all part of that same social circle. If you see a movie before any of your friends,
you feel compelled to tell people about the twist ending. Because that information makes you seem more
in the know and therefore more socially powerful. But they’ll probably hate you for spoiling
the movie, so stop that… you jerk. But it doesn’t have to be about fiction
either. After a political speech, do you catch yourself
saying “can you believe what he just said?” to anyone else? When you found out that NASA found seven planets
around Trappist-1, did you feel compelled to tell everyone who didn’t already know? These are all bits of social currency that
you use to increase your social standing. Everyone participates in gossip. Whether it’s about the lazy coworker with
body odor so bad it’s borderline offensive, the girl who seems to sleep with everyone
in class, or scientific discoveries you had absolutely nothing to do with. So the next time you decide to gossip-shame
someone else, maybe take a good look in the mirror and try to figure out what social currency
you’re trading in, because now, you know better.