Why do people gossip about their friends

Why do we love gossip?

Almost two thirds of our conversations revolve around people who are not present at the moment. But why actually? Why do we love the conspiratorial chat in the office? Or the exchange of news over a coffee chat? And why is it supposed that nobody reads the colorful tabloids - and yet everyone knows what it says?

Clapping and blaspheming - a basic instinct?

Most of us love gossip. A preference that sets us apart from animals. Because even primates use their time more effectively. "Monkeys say: 'Watch out! A snake!' Or: 'Look! Food!' But they don't talk about others, "says the director of the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center, Professor Josep Call. Primates tend to spend their quality time with a nice companion with extensive grooming.

The scratching and removing parasites is extremely pleasant for both parties. You feel close and connected, similar to chatting with a good friend. That is why the British psychologist Robin Dunbar sees primates' body care, the so-called grooming, as the counterpart to human gossip.

As a social being, humans are dependent on exchange with others. It's part of the survival program. "The ability to talk about others is innate," explains graduate psychologist Dr. Andreas Schick. At first, children tell stories from their everyday life: "Mia hit Ben" or "Dad puffed".

However, children at this age do not clap or gossip consciously. They just report what happened. Targeted talking about others starts later. It now depends on the moral development how a person deals with his communicative gift.

Men and women clap differently

"Gossip!" used to do it when an item of laundry was hit on a stone while washing. The women came together at the washing stations to work and exchange information on the side. So the women "clapped". About telltale stains on the laundry, about the secrets of love in general or about the very latest news.

Martin Luther, the washerwomen were deeply suspicious. In his works he railed against "washing your mouth" and the resulting catharsis effect: when you look at someone else's atrocities, your own quickly fade into the background.

But gossip is by no means a female domain. Men clap too. Just different. Women meet specifically to talk about themselves and others. Men meet for a common activity - and then casually talk about themselves and others.

The topics are similar, but there are small differences: "Research assumes that women are more likely to talk about friends and family, while men talk about sports stars, for example," says Freda-Marie Hartung, professor of personality psychology and aptitude testing. For women, the gossip has another side effect: They can act out their aggressive side.

Rules of gossip

While gossip has a bad reputation, it is still very popular. The distribution of roles is clear: one of them is actively clapping "Do you know ...?", One is clapping passively "Is that true ...?" and the third - always absent - provides the valuable and gossip-worthy information. Who takes on which part is constantly being renegotiated. Only the basis of the conversation, the object of gossip, is not asked.

According to the sociologist Professor Angela Keppler, the whole thing works according to fixed rules. First of all, it is carefully probed who it is about and whether both are interested in gossiping together. Then comes the real gossip story. And to top it off, there is a personal comment including an assessment of the topic.

Success through gossip?

Gossip can have several positive aspects. On the one hand, talking together about someone who is absent leaves a pleasant feeling of togetherness. The gossip creates unity and closeness. On the other hand, the gossip conveys common values. Which behavior is desirable? What is punished socially? Where do I stand in this structure? For a newcomer to a workforce, this knowledge can be of enormous benefit.

"In addition to information, gossip is about entertainment, relaxation and friendship. You get closer through social information," explains Professor Freda-Marie Hartung. In addition, the fear of gossip ensures adequate behavior. Because whoever behaves in a way that is harmful to the group is noticed by the talk of the others.

When does gossip and blasphemy turn into bullying?

But what if gossip turns malicious? “Gossip and gossip and bullying can be one and the same thing,” emphasizes Dr. Andreas Schick. The borders are fluid, according to the co-founder of the prevention program "Faustlos".

If people are regularly badly talked about and they also hear the gossip, a classic bullying situation has arisen. "Gossip doesn't always have to be negative," says Schick. "But if someone speaks badly about someone over the long term or if untruths are spread regularly, it is bullying."

Celebrities as a comparison and a corrective

The beautiful, powerful, and rich must have thick skins in this regard. Every smallest offense is dragged to the public and commented on. The celebrities are observed, scolded or even pityed. You can serve as a role model for the masses without being asked.

"Today there is no longer any village structure that can do that. In the past, gossip in the village was the social cement," says media ethicist Professor Alexander Filipović. This friendly small group used to explain what was good and bad and show who was where in society. Today the whole world is the village. And the powerful and the rich have to serve as a comparison and a corrective.

Tabloids as the supreme discipline of gossip

The gossip press has lifted the radio or village gossip onto a professional platform. The celebrities are under constant observation there. The paparazzi are waiting for every misstep. In return, the rich and beautiful also benefit from the permanent reporting. You stay in conversation, especially for potential advertisers.

Hardly anyone admits to reading the colorful sheets of paper - but many know what it says. "Franz Josef Strauss always hid the Bild newspaper in the world," said the tabloid reporter Michael Graeter about the long-time CSU chairman. "He always knew everything."

Knowing about others can be beneficial. Especially when it comes to explosive moral misconduct such as infidelities, divorces or tax sins. Such cases often develop a momentum of their own. The more prominent the sinner and the more reprehensible the misconduct, the longer a topic stays in the press - and the tabloids become a moral authority.