Gossip creates friendships, it does not break them

May 18, 2006

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.
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This study is published in the June issue of Personal Relationships. Media wishing to receive a PDF please email JournalNews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net

Personal Relationships is an international, interdisciplinary journal that promotes scholarship in the field of personal relationships throughout a broad range of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, communication studies, anthropology, family studies, child development, and gerontology. It is published on behalf of the International Association for Relationship Research.

Jennifer K. Bosson is currently a professor in the department of Psychology at The University of Oklahoma. In August, she will join the faculty of the psychology department at the University of South Florida. She has been conducting empirical research on interpersonal relationships for the past 12 years. Dr. Bosson is available for media questions and interviews.

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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