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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Many people regard gossip as idle chatter that can harm people's reputations, but it may have some benefits, such as reducing stress, discouraging bad behavior and preventing exploitation.
That's the finding of a University of California, Berkeley study that included four experiments involving hundreds of volunteers.
"Gossip gets a bad rap, but we're finding evidence that it plays a critical role in the maintenance of social order," study co-author and social psychologist Robb Willer said in a university news release.
He and his colleagues also found that gossip can be therapeutic. Study participants' heart rates rose when they saw someone behaving badly, but the increase was moderated when they were able to tell others about what they had witnessed.
"Spreading information about the person whom they had seen behave badly tended to make people feel better, quieting the frustration that drove their gossip," Willer explained.
The urge to warn others about bad people is so strong that study participants sacrificed money to send a "gossip note" to warn others who were about to play against cheaters in economic trust games, the study found.
Overall, the findings suggest that people don't need to feel bad about revealing underhanded behavior by others, especially if it helps save someone from exploitation, the researchers concluded.
"We shouldn't feel guilty for gossiping if the gossip helps prevent others from being taken advantage of," lead author and social psychologist Matthew Feinberg said in the news release.
The study was published online Jan. 9 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
-- Robert Preidt
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