According to a new study, gossiping isn't just fun, it performs an important biological function: It teaches us to think twice before befriending Paris Hilton or Mel Gibson.
Northeastern University researchers found chattering about the personal lives of others helps us predict who may be a risk to us. USA Today reports that this was determined by two experiments on the visual phenomenon called "binocular rivalry." This involves showing each eye a different image at the same time. Instead of appearing superimposed, the eye alternates between the two images. For the first experiment, people were shown bland faces and given a description of the person's actions that was either negative, positive or neutral. These ranged rom "helped and elderly woman with groceries," to "threw a chair at a classmate." In the second experiment, subjects were shown faces mixed in with neutral images, in this case a house. They held down a key on a keyboard whenever they consciously saw a face.
In each experiment, people looked at faces more than the other objects. But surprisingly, they stared at people they'd heard negative tidbits about the longest. The authors wrote:
"It is easy to imagine that this preferential selection for perceiving bad people might protect us from liars and cheaters by allowing us to view them for longer and explicitly gather more information about their behavior."
This helps us when we're in a large enough group that we can't meet everyone. Gossip gives us an idea of who we should avoid, who we should possibly befriend, and who's likely to embarrass us with a string of racially-insensitive phone rants.
Pssst ...The Human Brain Is Wired For Gossip [USA Today]
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