Gossip in same-gender and cross-gender friends' conversations


  • This research was supported by grants from the University of California at Santa Cruz's Academic Senate and Social Sciences Division. Carrie Baker, Mary Carson, and Sharon Myers are appreciated for their help in the research. Margarita Azmitia is thanked for her comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

Address correspondence to Campbell Leaper, Program in Developmental Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064. E-mail: cam@cats.ucsc.edu.


Gossip initiations and listener responses were examined in conversations between 25 female-female, 19 male-male and 24 female-male pairs of friends. Participants were 18 to 21 years of age (mean age = 19) and had known one another at least 2 months (mean length = 24 months). Transcribed tape recordings of 5–minute unstructured conversations were analyzed for gossip initiations (evalutive comments about a familiar third person) and gossip responses (discouraging, neutral, mildly encouraging, moderately encouraging, highly encouraging). Overall, encouraging responses were more likely than discouraging or neutral responses. Group differences were also observed. Negative gossip was more likely to occur between female pairs than between male pairs or cross-gender pairs. Also, among female pairs only, negative gossip was more likely than positive gossip. Furthermore, the female pairs tended to respond to evaluative gossip with highly encouraging comments. There were no gender differences within the cross-gender pairs associated with any behaviors. The findings suggest that women may be more likely than men to use and encourage gossip in same-gender friendships in order to establish solidarity and make social comparisons.