Gossiping might be bad news for the people being talked about, but for those who are dishing the dirt, researchers say it’s actually good for you. A study says that gossiping increases levels of the hormone oxytocin in the brain, which makes you feel closer to others.
“I work as a psychiatrist and I noticed that every time my colleagues and I gossiped, we felt closer together,” says study lead author Dr. Natascia Brondino. “I started to wonder whether there was a biochemical cause for this feeling of closeness.”
Oxytocin is also called the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle chemical’ because it’s also released during lovemaking and produced by women during labor to help them bond with their newborns. Other instances that can trigger its release include loving touches like hugging a teddy bear or patting a pet. Oxytocin has also been know to provoke feelings of trust and generosity, and boosted levels of the hormone have now been cited in women who engaged in gossip.
Researchers from the University Of Pavia in Italy tested the effects of gossip on 22 local women who were university students by randomly assigning them to two groups — one that would gossip and one that wouldn’t.
The first group gossiped about an unplanned pregnancy on campus, and the second non-gossip group chatted about how a person’s injury prevented them from playing sports in the future. Both conversations were prompted and led by actresses, and each group completed questionnaires listing their reasons for being participants in the study.
Using a swab, the subjects’ saliva was tested for their individual oxytocin and cortisol levels — the latter being the body’s prime stress hormone. While the cortisol levels decreased equally among the gossip and non-gossip groups, the oxytocin levels were adequately higher in the gossip group. Specifically, it was the gossip talk that triggered the release of more oxytocin in the women’s brains than ordinary or mundane conversations. These findings suggest that gossip, as detrimental as it can be to some relationships, could actually serve a vital importance in human social interaction.
“It serves a useful social function,” says Brondino. “It brings people closer together than they would be if they were talking about some impersonal topic. And it can help us figure out who to trust, because we can hear information about people we don’t know from trusted sources.”
In this study, researchers used only female participants with no combined male test subjects because oxytocin can also be released during sexual arousal. They didn’t want the participants to be attracted to one another, which could cause the release of the hormone and influence the specific gossip/oxytocin findings. They did not present same-sex or homosexual attraction as obstacles or hindrances for collecting this data.