Do you know Why Gossip Can Save Your Life?

Gossip, says an Oxford University evolutionary psychologist, provides vital physical and psychological benefits—and benefits society. But you have to do it right.

We have always been told that all the best things—booze, chocolate, television, grilled cheese in extremis—are bad for us. And so it is gratifying that science has finally deduced that one of life’s great pleasures, gossip, is not only life-enhancing but life-saving.
“The most important thing that will prevent you dying is the size of the social network,” Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University, told the Cheltenham Science Festival over the weekend: “That has a bigger effect than anything, except giving up cigarettes. Your social network has a huge effect on happiness and well-being.”
Dr. Jennifer Cole, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Manchester University, has written on the “short term effects of gossip behavior on self-esteem” and appeared alongside Professor Dunbar at the science festival. “We know we are violating someone else’s privacy and it breaks social rules about politeness,” she reportedly said. “But if people don’t gossip at all, we don’t like them, we’re suspicious.”
According to Dr. Cole, who did not respond to requests for an interview, gossip matters because social connections are important. The former helps cement the latter.
What a flood of subsequent headlines missed was the devil in the detail: Gossip wrongly, negatively about people, Professor Dunbar told The Daily Beast, and your life expectancy could diminish. Gossip only enhances your life if you gossipright.
Professor Dunbar said he had extrapolated the positive benefits of gossip from two studies. The first was an overview of 148 other studies that looked at heart attack patients a year after their surgeries.
“The best predictor of good health was the quality of the social contact they had with others,” he said. “The only thing that came close was giving up smoking. It came way above body weight, whether they were obese or not, what medication they were on or treatments they had had, whatever therapy they had had, the exercise they took or alcohol they consumed.
“What was a much bigger factor in their recoveries was the size and vibrancy of their social network.”


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