Rumour mongering can be therapeutic: Study

January 18th, 2012 - 8:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 18 (IANS) What has been dismissed for centuries as salacious, idle chatter that shreds reputations and kills trust also has its benefits, says a study.

For instance, rumour mongering can help us monitor bad behaviour, prevent exploitation and lower stress, says a new finding from the University of California, Berkeley.

“We’re finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order,” said Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, who co-authored the study, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports.

The study focused on “prosocial” gossip that “has the function of warning others about untrustworthy or dishonest people”, added Willer, as opposed to the voyeuristic rumour mongering about tabloid celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Charlie Sheen.

The study also found that rumour mongering or gossip can be therapeutic. Volunteers’ heart rates increased when they spotted someone behaving badly, which normalised when they were able to pass on the information to alert others.

“Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip,” Willer said, according to a Berkeley statement.

Overall, the findings indicated that people need not feel bad about revealing the vices of others, especially if it helped save someone from exploitation, the researchers said.

“We shouldn’t feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of,” said Matthew Feinberg, a Berkeley social psychologist, who led the study.

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