A new study has found that women don’t engage in “tear-down” gossip any more than men, and lower-income people don’t gossip more than their more well-to-do counterparts.
It also finds that younger people are more likely to gossip negatively than older people.
According to researchers at the University of California-Riverside, this is the first study to dig deep into who gossips the most, what topics they gossip about, and how often people gossip which, they discovered, was 52 minutes a day on average.
“There is a surprising dearth of information about who gossips and how, given public interest and opinion on the subject,” said Dr. Megan Robbins, an assistant psychology professor, who led the study along with Alexander Karan, a graduate student in her lab.
Robbins notes that if you’re going to look at gossip like an academic, you have to remove the value judgment we assign to the word. Gossip, in the academic’s view, is not bad. It’s simply talking about someone who isn’t present. That talk could be positive, neutral, or negative.
“With that definition, it would be hard to think of a person who never gossips because that would mean the only time they mention someone is in their presence,” Robbins said.
“They could never talk about a celebrity unless the celebrity was present for the conversation. They would only mention any detail about anyone else if they are present. Not only would this be difficult, but it would probably seem strange to people they interact with.”
For the study, Robbins and Karan looked at data from 467 people — 269 women and 198 men — who participated in one of five studies. Participants were between 18 and 58 years old.
Participants wore a portable listening device called the Electronically Activated Recorder or EAR. The EAR samples what people say throughout the day. About 10 percent of their conversation is recorded, then analyzed by research assistants.
The research assistants counted conversation as gossip if it was about someone not present. In all, there were 4,003 instances of gossip. They then filtered the gossip into three categories: Positive, negative, or neutral.
The assistants further coded the gossip depending on whether it was about a celebrity or acquaintance, the topic, and the gender of the conversation partner.
The study found:
- younger people engage in more negative gossip than older adults;
- about 14 percent of participants’ conversations were gossip, or just under an hour in 16 waking hours;
- almost three-fourths of gossip was neutral. Negative gossip (604 instances) was twice as prevalent as positive (376);
- gossip overwhelmingly was about an acquaintance and not a celebrity, with a comparison of 3,292 samples vs. 369;
- extraverts gossip far more frequently than introverts, across all three types of gossip;
- women gossip more than men, but only in neutral, information-sharing, gossip;
- poorer, less educated people don’t gossip more than wealthier, better-educated people.
This runs contrary to assertions found in popular “best habits of the rich” books, the researchers note.
A final result? Everyone gossips.
“Gossip is ubiquitous,” the researchers concluded.
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.