Can’t Stand Gossip? Let’s Chat About Its Benefits

Rumormongers, blabbermouths, busybodies—no matter what you call them, gossipers get a bad rap. But a study by University of Maryland and Stanford University researchers argues that those who exchange personal information about absent third parties aren’t all bad.

Gossipers can boost levels of cooperation within social circles, according to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that used computer simulations to show gossip is a source of valuable intel.

“When people are interested in knowing if someone is a good person to interact with, if they can get information from gossiping—assuming the information is honest—that can be a very useful thing to have,” says co-author Dana Nau, a retired professor in UMD’s Department of Computer Science and Institute for Systems Research.

Nau worked with first author Xinyue Pan M.S. ’21, Ph.D. ’23 and co-authors Vincent Hsiao ’18, Ph.D. ’24 and Michele Gelfand of Stanford Business School; he says the simulation isn’t entirely true to life, but provides valuable behavioral insights—and cover for the next time someone tells you to mind your own beeswax.


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