In case you weren't awkward enough in the myriad of social situations you're violently tossed into throughout your daily routine, a new study from the London Business School into how people gossip about other people behind their backs will confirm all of your paranoid fantasies about your co-workers all conspiring to not invite you to Wednesday cookie cake night. Demonstrating a healthy, measured interest in what people are saying about you is fine, — advantageous, even — but if you're extremely self-conscious, your peers will think it's weird and talk about how weirdly self-conscious you are behind your back.
The study, which sports the pithy title "Do I want to know? How the motivation to acquire relationship-threatening information in groups contributes to paranoid thought, suspicion behavior and social rejection," figured out that nosy people really do lose their noses if they start fixating on what other people are saying about them. Lead researcher Jennifer Mason Carr and her colleagues found that, while gathering information reduces uncertainty and "gives people a greater sense of control and predictability over their environments," too zealous a search for information can be off-putting, prompting people who weren't gossiping about a colleague before to start gossiping about that person's obvious paranoia.
Researchers identified two types of information gatherers — "blunters," who avoid gathering information at all costs by putting their hands to their ears and humming "Flight of the Valkyries" at an unreasonable decibel, and "monitors," who root out information with the tenacity of pigs sniffing for truffles. Monitors are more likely, during their search for information about what other people are saying about them, to become paranoid and, as a result, incorrectly assess social situations. In bungling those social interactions, say the researchers, monitors often precipitate the very negative situations they're desperately trying to avoid. "Just like Oedipus!" exclaims Sigmund Freud, twirling a cigar from beyond the grave. The study authors explained that a monitor's paranoid thinking often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy:
Drawing from theories of motivated social cognition and symbolic interactionism, we hypothesize that this motivation is associated with paranoid thought patterns and suspicion behaviors that can anger other group members and lead them to reject those who actively search for evidence that others are secretly trying to harm them.
In order to figure out how MARTI ("motivation to acquire relationship threatening information") affects people, researchers told 102 study participants to perform a certain task, suggesting that some members of the group were doing a better job or were in a "more advantageous position than other members. The participants were then asked if they wanted to exclude certain people from their imaginary endeavor. Anyone who possessed high MARTI qualities was, on average, 3.63 times more likely to be excluded, because nobody wants to hang around a grouchy old group-member like Pierce Hawthorne, who spends all his time recording conversations and thinking of ways to outsmart the very people whom he purportedly cooperates with.
If You Think Your Coworkers Are Talking About You, They Probably Are [Business Insider]
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