Despite its bad rap, gossip might be a good thing. Spreading the word about untrustworthy people or unfair situations helps temper frustration, a new study found.
Researchers from University of California at Berkeley hooked up study subjects to heart rate monitors and asked them to watch a game between two players, one of whom was cheating. Given the opportunity, most subjects slipped a note to the one playing fair, warning him of his opponent’s dishonesty.
“Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip,” study co-author Robb Willer said in a statement. The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
While witnessing bad behavior made heart rates soar, warning others brought heart rates back down.
“A central reason for engaging in gossip was to help others out,” lead author Matthew Feinberg said in a statement, “more so than just to talk trash about the selfish individual.”
Not all gossip is altruistic, though. Rumor-mongering about celebrity hookups does little to help others. But pro-social gossip, the researchers said, can be therapeutic.
“We shouldn’t feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of,” said Feinberg.