Gossip feels so wrong, but is so tempting. Who doesn’t love to get their feelings about their mother-in-law or their frustrating boss off their chest? But gossip isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s something everyone does for a significant portion of their day, according to a new study from the University of California-Riverside—and mostly not in a bad way, though some people are more prone to gossiping than others. Gossiping is probably one of the unsavory habits we all do in secret.
By definition, gossip is simply talking about someone who isn’t present, whether it’s in a good, bad, or neutral way. “With that definition, it would be hard to think of a person who never gossips because that would mean the only time they mention someone is in their presence,” Megan Robbins, an assistant psychology professor who helped lead the study, told ScienceDaily. “They could never talk about a celebrity unless the celebrity was present for the conversation; they would only mention any detail about anyone else if they are present. Not only would this be difficult, but it would probably seem strange to people they interact with.”
With that definition in mind, the University of California-Riverside put a portable listening device on 467 study participants—269 women and 198 men between ages 18 and 58—to find out who gossips, how much, and about whom. What they found was that most gossip they heard from the conversations was neutral, meaning the people involved were simply sharing information about a person who wasn’t present. Most of this gossip was about an acquaintance. Negative gossip was twice as prevalent (and more common in younger people) as positive gossip, but over three-fourths of the gossip recorded was simply discussing someone else. This can strengthen friendships and those bonds are one scientifically proven way to help you stay alive longer.
Even more interesting was who gossips and how much. Extroverts gossip more than introverts and people who are wealthier and well-educated gossip more than people who have less money and education. Women also gossip more than men, but only neutrally. On average, people spent about 52 minutes a day gossiping out of 16 waking hours. The study concluded that gossip, no matter who you are, is ubiquitous, but if you really want to kick the habit, here’s how to start.