OK admit it: we all enjoy a little bit of gossip every now and then. Whether it be about a movie star or the next door neighbor, it piques our interest—especially if it happens to be negative. Perhaps a case of good old schadenfreude is the reason we take a guarded amusement in gossip, or maybe the simple fact that it’s more interesting to find out a person received a perfect score on a test through cheating rather than spending long hours at the library. But have we ever considered that hearing a juicy bit of gossip might actually be good for us? Researchers at Northeastern University concluded that people remember a face better when they hear negative gossip about a person than if they hear positive or neutral gossip, suggesting an evolutionary benefit to our guilty pleasure. The ability to easily spot a possible liar, cheat, or all-around bad person provides social protection; we wouldn’t want to spend time with people who might betray or deceive us. While that seems like an obvious statement, what makes this study fascinating is that it’s all happening at the unconscious level. Even if what we hear is untrue, it’s in our nature to be cautious.
Not only does the research give us a good excuse for our interest in gossip but it’s also a little reassuring. It reminds us that that we (excuse the pun) look out for ourselves. Our well-being is a priority, regardless of whether we realize it or not.