It flies around your office, your neighborhood, and definitely your kids’ school. But do you know how to spot the bad versus the good? (Yes, good gossip is a thing.) Here’s the dirt.

By Jennifer King Lindley
June 23, 2016

Gossiping is like eating cake for breakfast—temporarily thrilling, totally delicious, but leaves you feeling kind of icky. (Think about how many times you start a conversation with “I don’t want to gossip, but...”) The reason? You are talking about someone who isn’t there—and probably passing judgment. When it is especially malicious, gossip humiliates and demeans the subject. “Emotional pain and physical pain are processed in the same part of the brain,” says Erika Holiday, Psy.D., a psychologist in Los Angeles and a coauthor of Mean Girls, Meaner Women. “Gossip can hurt as much as being punched in the gut.”

So, What’s The Upside?
“Gossiping together strengthens bonds,” says Frank McAndrew, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois. “It’s a sign of trust: I’m taking a risk you will not use this information in a way that will come back to haunt either of us.” Kids gossip to learn how to get along in the group or as a means of intelligence. “We use it to learn who is friend and who is foe without having to experience it firsthand,” says Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and the author of How Emotions Are Made.

How to Do It Right
Aim for a “Goldilocks amount”—just enough to signal that you’re not completely aloof without gorging on the thrill of it, says Jennifer Cole, Ph.D., a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University, in England, who has studied gossip extensively. (Joe got a bonus! Lucky dog! has a whiff of insider information but stays positive.) And assess your intentions. Are you talking out of genuine concern? I heard Susan’s cancer is back. I thought you might want to take her to dinner this week. Or is it titillation disguised as concern? Martha closed down the bar last night. Doesn’t she ever see her kids? Says McAndrew: “Gossip is a social skill, and like any skill, it takes practice.”

5 Familiar Types
From blabbing kids to vicious moms, the lowdown on gossip at every age.

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