Aug. 17, 2005 — -- If knowledge is power, then gossip is powerful currency -- traded daily on high school phone lines and at the supermarket check-out lines.
"The best piece of gossip always has a little hint of scandal involved," says Paula Froelich, a columnist for the New York Post's "Page Six." "And it's also pretty salacious. And at some point your mouth drops and you go, 'oh no she didn't!'"
While Mom always said "No one loves a busybody," some scholars believe gossip is a healthy, essential tool in helping people work together and defining the rules of the tribe.
"If we listen we can learn what people find offensive or what people find acceptable, what they don't find acceptable," says Dr. Sarah Wert, a research psychologist. "So to that extent, it's a way to learn how to be a better social actor."
When asked, 64 percent of gossip mavens said they learned something while they exchanged secrets, saying the information applied to their life.
Even ancient societies loved to dish. Egyptologists recently uncovered hieroglyphics which contain sensational gossip about everything from the baldness of the queen to the sexual orientation of the king -- and perhaps even who was trying to kill the king.
"Ascension was very important in ancient Egypt, so which queen is actually going to get her son on the throne is something that will turn up as well in the gossip texts," said Lisa Schwappach-Shirriff, an Egyptologist with the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.
Five thousand years later, researchers studied gossipers from American middle schools to villages in Newfoundland. They found amazing similarities between then and now.People can spend up to two-thirds of their conversational time gossiping -- and men love it just as much as women. The accuracy of the gossip may not matter as much as how often you engage in it.
"Gossip humanizes people," Froelich said. "And when people on the street can be like, 'oh, she's rich, she's beautiful, she's famous, she seems to have everything, but oh wait, her fiancé cheated on her too, hmmm …'"