Dishing dirt behind someone's back is a beneficial activity, say scientists. Spreading gossip—defined as alerting others that a person has behaved badly—helps maintain social order and even lowers the stress of the gossiper, according to a new study out of UC Berkeley and reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. Researchers set up experiments involving people cheating at games. Observers who witnessed the cheating experienced a spike in their heart rates, but when they sent "gossip notes" to others about the cheating, their heart rates dropped.
"We tend to think of gossip as a bad thing and it gets a bad reputation, but if you were to remove it, that would be at the cost of social order," says the study's co-author. "Much of what we call gossip is driven by a sincere desire to help others. Gossip can make you feel better. You might even say it's therapeutic." (Read more scientific study stories.)