January 25, 2025

SPEAKING ILL OF OTHERS: WHEN GOSSIP FOSTERS SOCIAL CONNECTION

This research examines the positive interpersonal consequences of sharing gossip. Across five studies, we show that sharing discerning negative information about a third party (vs. non-discerning positive information) can lead to a greater liking for and trust in the gossiper when the shared information is not obvious. Specifically, we hypothesize and find that, because people perceive the speaker to be more discerning when they discuss a less discernible negative trait of another person (vs. a more discernible positive trait), sharing gossip increases liking for and trust in the speaker by the recipient (Study 1). Accordingly, we find that gossipers cannot reap these interpersonal benefits when the shared information about another person is obvious (Study 2). In Study 3, we demonstrate that the positive effect of sharing gossip is attenuated when the gossip conflicts with the recipient’s perception of the target. In Studies 4A and 4B, we show that the interpersonal benefits can be conferred to the gossiper only when it is shared with the recipient exclusively, but not when it is shared to another person or with a group. Our findings expand our understanding of gossip and deepen our insight into its impact on interpersonal relationships