An article published in the current issue of Personal Relationships finds the good in bad gossip. Research shows that sharing negative attitudes about others may have positive consequences; it promotes closeness and friendship. In their study, the authors find that negative attitudes are frequently shared among friends and can even promote friendships among strangers.
Gossip is alluring because it establishes in-group/out-group boundaries, boosts self-esteem, and conveys highly informative information about the attitude holder. “We certainly do not deny that gossip behavior has it drawbacks,” the authors state. “Still, if there is a positive side of gossip, we believe it is that shared, mild, negative attitudes toward others can create and/or amplify interpersonal intimacy.”
In the first two parts of the study, two groups of participants were instructed to list the positive and negative attitudes they shared at the early and later stages of close relationships. Both groups recalled more negative than positive attitudes about other people.
In the third section, participants listened to a conversation between two fictional characters and explained what they liked or did not like about one speaker (a third person). They were then told that they shared or did not share the same thoughts as another participant whom they would be partnered with. The authors found that those whose partner had a mutual dislike of the person felt closer to this stranger than people who learned that they shared a liking.
From Blackwell Publishing