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The positive effects of gossip

Narrator: This is Science Today. Gossip tends to be seen as doing more harm than good. But a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that some gossip can have positive effects. Psychologist Robb Willer, who coauthored the study, says that passing on rumors about untrustworthy people acts as a warning mechanism and controls overall rates of exploitation in groups.

Willer: The more moral people among us are more likely to pass on rumors about untrustworthy people and they report doing so because they're concerned about the well-being of others.

Narrator: Sharing rumors also had positive effects on the emotional well-being of individuals.

Willer: In our experiments we found that people tended to experience frustration and showed an increased heart rate when they found out that someone had behaved in a deviant way. But engaging in gossip and warning another person about the deviant had the effect of tempering their frustration and ameliorating their elevated heart rate. And in this way gossip made them feel better and so you might even say it was therapeutic.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.