Why every office needs a gossip

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Gossip generally gets a bad rap, but a psychological study indicates that it’s actually critical to maintain order in social groups such as the workplace.

Researchers from Stanford University divided 216 participants into groups and asked them to play a game which could earn their teams money. As part of the game, individuals could make choices which would benefit themselves to the detriment of the group. But between rounds, the groups were given time to share information about individuals with other team members, and then decide whether to exclude particular participants from their teams.

The opportunity to gossip was found to be beneficial to the teams by allowing them to make informed decisions about who to rely on.

“Groups that allow their members to gossip,” said Feinberg, “sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t. And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracise untrustworthy members. While both of these behaviours can be misused, our findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society.”

Gossip also served another purpose: encouraging individuals to look out for the interests of others. As selfish group members realised they were being ostracised, their behaviour changed when they returned to their teams. “Exclusion compelled them to conform to the more cooperative behavior of the rest of the group,” the researchers wrote.

Other research also indicates that gossip is a good source of information: 28% of employees say office gossip is their first source of company news (Opinion Research Corp, 2008).

Related articles:

No one likes a gossip, really

Work gossip at epidemic porportions
 

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