Gossip: the good, the bad, the healthy?

By Meghan Smith
October 18, 2007


All the residents in House 2 were written up Thursday night, Oct. 4. This is the first time in the memory of those involved that an entire building of students got in trouble with Public Safety in one night.

The night started with just a handful of students on the second floor having a good time and resulted in a complete house party.

Can you believe it? Well don’t. In all actuality, no one got written up Thursday night but warnings were given out. This is an example of how one little event can turn into something much larger as a result of gossip.

“People put other people down to make themselves feel better (about themselves),” Dr. Melissa Terlecki, assistant professor of psychology, said.

This is truly the essence of gossip and is the reason the word carries with it such a negative connotation.

Researchers argue that a little bit of gossip is healthy. In a recent article from MSNBC.com, Frank McAndrew, professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., said, “[Gossip] a social skill, not a character flaw.”

McAndrew and his colleagues did a study on 140 college students in an effort to determine a more specific angle on the nature of gossip and how it works.

“Gossip can be both good and bad,” Stephanie Milne, a freshman business administration major, said.

Gossip slips into more of a conversational role when asking someone how an old friend is doing and “When taken the wrong way, it has the ability to start unnecessary drama,” Milne said.

The results of McAndrew’s study showed that the nature of the gossip controlled whether it was shared or not.

People commonly passed on negative personal information pertaining to a same sex rival and only passed on good news if it involved a friend.

“Hearing something bad about an enemy serves as ammo. It makes you feel a little better about yourself and you’re more likely to repeat it, sometimes just for sake of conversation with someone in class,” Christina Cimmino, a junior English communications major, said. “The good news tends to stay within your group of friends.”

The gossip done within a circle of friends is what researchers are claiming to be “healthy.” McAndrew explains that gossip helps build and strengthen relationships with others while at the same time serving as a tool people uses to implement “unwritten societal commandments.”

Our generation has been one surrounded by gossip.

The number of tabloids match the number of customers in check-out lines, entire TV channels dedicate their programming to celebrity news and a novel entitled “Gossip Girl” graces the top of The New York Times Best Seller List.

This impeccable gossip network created by the media has made itself prevalent in the lives of college students through the social-networking cite Facebook, making gossip harder to steer away from.

“Facebook’s minified feature doesn’t help the [gossip] situation. It tells you that Jill and Bobby are ‘no longer in relationship’ and leaves the rest of the story up to you,” Cimmino said. “As a result, people jump to conclusions and rumors are started.”

Gossip, true or not, is a staple in today’s society. Everyone does it and many feel remorse after dishing with their friends.

Researchers are saying that you shouldn’t feel guilty for gossip because “It’s what keeps the culture going, greasing the social machinery.”

Meghan Smith

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