If you can't resist passing on tittle-tattle, don't be too hard on yourself. People who gossip are apparently doing us all a favour.
Far from idle chit-chat, talking about others has benefits for both the gossiper and wider society, scientists claim. It can help control bad behaviour, prevent someone being exploited and even lower stress.
The scientists carried out a series of detailed experiments to come up with their conclusion. And they didn't involve meandering conversations over a garden fence.
The study focused on chatter known as "pro-social" gossip, in which those passing on information are warning others about untrustworthy people. In one experiment, 51 volunteers were hooked up to heart rate monitors as they checked the scores of two people playing a game. They soon spotted that one player was breaking the rules.
Observers' heart rates increased as they witnessed the cheating, and most seized the chance to slip a note to new players warning that their oppponent was unlikely to play fair.
Simply spreading the word reduced their heart rate.
"Gossiping made them feel better," said Robb Willer, co-author of the study carried out at the University of California and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology's online issue.
"Gossip gets a bad rap, but we're finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order."
- Daily Mail