Gossip- social comparison about an absent third party- can act as both social regulator and interpersonal weapon.
When gossip is motivated by the enforcement of prosocial norms, it can act as a corrective or preventative force against antisocial behaviors by guiding gossipers in updating who to trust and cooperate with. However, gossip can quickly morph into an interpersonal weapon when it is untrue or not in reference to prosocial norms.
Furthermore, gossip is plausibly an evolutionary mismatch in the ultra-societies of the present day. The lack of long-term relationships between individuals means that reputation cannot be reasonably evaluated, rendering the social function of gossip impotent, or worse, exaggerated and devoid of context.
Join us as we explore the Role of Gossip in this session of Examined Lives.
Behavioral study with ~300 Dutch measuring the effects of gossip on reputation updating (pdf)
This View of Life article on Learning from Gossip About Free Speech