Of Tabloids and Family Secrets: The Evolutionary Psychology of Gossip1

Authors


  • 1

    The authors thank David Sloan Wilson, Kevin Kniffin, Tim Kasser, and David Schmitt for their advice during the preparation of this paper, and four anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Frank T. McAndrew, Department of Psychology, Knox College, Galesburg, IL 61401-4999. E-mail: fmcandre@knox.edu

Abstract

Two experiments tested hypotheses about gossip derived from an evolutionary perspective. In the first experiment, 128 people ranging in age from 17 to 62 years ranked the interest value of 12 tabloid stories about celebrities differing in age and gender. In the second experiment, 83 college students ranked the interest value and likelihood of spreading gossip about male or female professors, relatives, friends, acquaintances, or strangers based on 12 different gossip scenarios. The results of these experiments confirmed a consistent pattern of interest in gossip marked by a preference for information about others of the same age and gender. Exploitable information in the form of damaging, negative news about nonallies and positive news about allies was especially prized and likely to be passed on. The findings confirm that gossip can serve as a strategy of status enhancement and function in the interests of individuals, and that it does not just function as a means of social control within groups.

Ancillary