Guess what I"ve just heard? Gossip is good for you

Guess what I”ve just heard Gossip is good for you

2:09 AM on 26th May 2011

Growing up, my mother always used to tell me: ‘If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.’

When I gloated over a classmate failing a test I’d come top in, she’d gently remind me that fortunes change. And my sniggering at friends’ weight gain was always met with a pointed glance at my own well-rounded tummy.

But to no avail. Try as she might, my poor mother couldn’t knock the gossip gene out of her daughter.

Bonding: Having a good gossip brings people together (posed by models)

Bonding: Having a good gossip brings people together (posed by models)

Sleeping with your boss I’ll tell everyone I know. Child going off the rails I’ll happily share my views on your lack of parenting skills with our friends. Husband staying late at the office a lot recently Well, I don’t think he’s working . . .

The second there’s the sniff of a new rumour doing the rounds, my phone rings off the hook and my email inbox becomes clogged with pals wondering if I’ve heard and what else I know.

In fact, my love of gossip is so strong, I’ve been forced to amend my mother’s mantra to the rather more appropriate: ‘If you haven’t got anything good to say about someone, come and sit by me.’

However, I learned long ago not to broadcast the fact that I like talking behind people’s backs, because even though most of us do it, it’s still a social taboo right up there with shopping at Aldi and telling someone their bum does look big in that.

But not any more it would seem. For now scientists have proved what I suspected all along — that gossiping is actually good for you.

The Mail revealed last week how researchers from Harvard University, no less, have discovered the brain is hot-wired to thrive on tittle-tattle.

‘Gossip is a vital thread in human social interaction,’ they say. ‘It’s a way to learn socially relevant information about other people’s character or personality without having to directly experience their triumphs or misadventures.’ It helps us distinguish friend from foe, therefore protecting us from harm.

I have to confess the only thing that surprised me about this study was that they needed to undertake any research to prove the blindingly obvious. I mean, who hasn’t instantly liked someone who quietly confesses to detesting the same person you do Or felt closer to someone after giggling about a celebrity’s cellulite together

Read all about it The abundance of showbiz magazines has increased our appetite for gossip

Read all about it The abundance of showbiz magazines has increased our appetite for gossip

To be honest, I don’t know what I’d talk about if I wasn’t gossiping. No wonder it’s been estimated to account for around 80 per cent of our conversations.

In fact, I think one of the reasons I went into journalism was because of my love for other people’s secrets.

Over the years I’ve learned of love cheats making scurrilous deals with the Press to stop their affairs coming out. And I’m regularly regaled with celeb gossip so juicy it can’t be printed — I love watching TV knowing the presenter is an alcoholic or that the glamorous size-zero starlet on a chat show had been in floods of tears earlier, convinced she was fat. It’s the perfect profession for a gossip junkie like me.

I enjoy living vicariously through others — it makes life more exciting. I love the tingling sensation I get running through my veins as I’m told a supposed secret, feeling my eyes narrow in judgment and puffing my chest out in indignation if I feel someone’s done something wrong.

It’s good for the ego, too. I get a strange sense of self-importance that people come to me when they want to know what’s going on. And to get attention at a party, all I have to do is mention the job I do and I’m soon surrounded by people asking, ‘Is it true that . . .’ or, ‘What’s so-and-so really like’

When I start gossiping, I pick over every single aspect with relish. No angle is left unconsidered, no possibility or interpretation unexplored.

If the person I’m talking to changes the subject, I’ll bring it back again until I’m fully satisfied every avenue has been covered. If they’ve lost interest, I start fidgeting, anxious to go and find someone who does want to discuss it at length.

But I’m not that unusual, says psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos.

‘We use gossip as a way of bonding,’ she says. ‘Who we like, who we don’t like — it’s a form of “you and me together”.

‘In fact, the best way to get people to bond is to get them to decide who they dislike. It’s like having a secret — you both know you’re doing something bad, so you have a connection. It’s a form of sisterhood.’

What’s more, Dr Papadopoulos believes we’re gossiping more now than ever, thanks to the rise of celebrity magazines and TV programmes.

Of course, it’s not all positive. Being the victim of gossip can be hurtful. And being the bearer of it can cause unwanted consequences.

‘We had a new woman start at work,’ recalls my friend Theresa. ‘And we wanted her to feel welcome, so we let her into the secret that our very bouffant boss was actually bald but wore a wig to cover it up.

‘It was only later we found out she was his girlfriend.’

Thankfully, it appears she said nothing to her lover, but other friends haven’t been so lucky.

‘I was preparing a presentation with a particularly tough boss late one night and she was driving me mad,’ says Stephanie. ‘At around 1am, I went to the loo with a colleague and we launched into a mass moaning session about her.

‘You can guess the rest — my boss was in a cubicle and overheard everything.

‘It was awful, not only because we thought we were going to lose our jobs but also because she didn’t deserve it, we were just tired and irritable.

‘Thankfully, she listened to our fulsome apologies but it was never the same afterwards.’

Maybe Stephanie should have told her boss it was a team-bonding exercise.