OTTAWA, Ontario — Men and women both spread scuttlebutt about adversaries, but a new study finds the fairer sex uses gossip with greater frequency, most often as a tactic to divert the attention of a love interest.
Researchers at the University of Ottawa in Canada recruited 290 heterosexual students, aged 17 to 30, to take a series of three questionnaires, hoping to measure attitudes toward sexual competition and the value of gossip.
Participants who held a competitive outlook toward other individuals of their gender were more likely to feel comfortable about gossiping, which translated into a greater tendency to actually do so.
Overall, women fell into this category more than men, which was reflective of an increased likelihood of enjoying and valuing chit-chatting with friends.
When men gossiped, they were more likely to discuss the achievements, career or otherwise, of their adversaries, while women were more inclined to talk about another woman’s looks. Gossip is used by women more frequently because of its social value, particularly when it comes to acquiring new information about a competitor.
The researchers believe that women’s heightened preference for circulating rumors has an evolutionary component, reflecting an innate strategy for selecting a suitable mate.
“The findings demonstrate that gossip is intimately linked to mate competition and not solely the product of a female gender stereotype that may be viewed as pejorative,” explains lead researcher Adam Davis in a press release. “It is a highly evolved social skill essential for interpersonal relationships, rather than a flaw of character.”
In light of his research team’s findings, Davis believes that broader society, including therapists, counselors, teachers, and other professionals, should look at rumormongering with a fresh perspective.
Ultimately, gossip may not be as much of a bad, salacious thing, as it is a way of life.
The study’s findings were published earlier this month in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.