May 24, 2011
I do not deny that gossip is usually perceived to be a negative thing by the person being gossiped about and that it can have destructive effects, but gossip can also have beneficial effects for groups and for individuals who gossip as well.
First of all, the presence of social gossip serves as a deterrent, and it keeps people honest. Knowing that your reputation will suffer via gossip may force you to carry your share of the load in a work group and keep you from exploiting people with whom you come into contact. Also, sharing gossip is a sign of trust, and it helps to create social bonds between people and build cohesiveness within groups. You can also become more socially successful by tuning into the gossip network. You can learn the unwritten rules and customs of a group that you are new to and also gain valuable information about others than can be used to get ahead.
Frank McAndrew is the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College.