Pope Francis recently warned gossip ‘fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us’.
But a new study suggests that gossiping may in fact be good for our self-esteem because it allows us to compare ourselves to others.
MailOnline reports that Dutch researchers have found hearing positive and negative gossip about another individual boosts self-reflection and self-evaluation.
But they added that stories about others need to be treated with a ‘critical attitude’ about the impact it may have.
Elena Martinescu at the University of Groningen said: ‘Women who receive negative gossip experience higher self-protection concerns possibly because they believe they might experience a similar fate as the person being the target of the gossip.
‘Men who receive positive gossip experience higher fear, perhaps because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening.’
Professor Martinescu added gossip provided individuals with indirect social comparison information and provides an essential resource to reflect on their behaviour.
She suggested rather than trying to block out gossip, we should ‘accept gossip as a natural part of our lives and receive it with a critical attitude regarding the consequences it may have on ourselves and on others.’
The study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, set out to explore why gossip was so pervasive in society and why people wanted to know about others’ achievements and failures.
It explored the effect positive and negative gossip had on how the recipient evaluates him or herself.
The study asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual and then were asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion, and self-protection value of the received gossip information.
Individuals that received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had increased self-promotion value and self-protection concerns.
‘For example, hearing positive stories about others may be informative, because they suggest ways to improve oneself,’ Professor Martinescu said.
‘Hearing negative gossip may be flattering, because it suggests that others may function less well than we do.
‘However, negative gossip may also be threatening to the self, because it suggests a malign social environment in which one may easily fall victim to negative treatments.’