Pssst! Can you keep a secret . . ? Why we really need to gossip
Published 09/02/2012 | 06:00
If you've just divulged a gossipy titbit to a female friend then set your stopwatch: you've got exactly 32 minutes before she spills the beans.
That's the findings of the skincare line Simple who recently conducted a survey of 3,000 British women to see how long they could keep a secret.
One-in-10 of women surveyed admitted to being completely unable to keep schtum -- no matter how confidential the information shared. And 85pc said they relished having a good gossip.
It would be hard to find a person who has not leaned in close to hear someone else dish the dirt on a friend. And few of us can resist the urge to stop at a newsstand to learn the latest gossip on celebrity trainwrecks like Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian.
"We would all be lying if we said we didn't like a good gossip, whether this be Mark Wright in I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! talking about the size of his willy or your workmate overdoing it at the office Christmas party," said Lucie Cave, editor of Heat magazine. "Gossip is a powerful conversational tool."
With nearly 80pc of our conversations made up of gossip, supported by a burgeoning 'gossip industry' worth a staggering $3bn, the question is: what are women really talking about?
A recent study by the First Cape wine company revealed that women -- who spend on average five hours a day gossiping -- talk first about shopping, food, sex, other people and other people's children, and finally -- their problems with the men in their lives.
Many women said they don't dwell on talking about problematic boyfriends or spouses because there are better things to talk about -- like speculating on who is having an affair, what friend has had a boob job, or whose relationship is about to falter.
And for those on the receiving end of such gossip, there is evidence to suggest that hearing a salacious titbit makes us feel good. Dishing the dirt on others releases 'happy' chemicals like dopamine, and increases levels of progesterone, helping to reduce anxiety.
The urge for us to talk about one another -- even to gossip about celebrities -- may come from an inherent need to bond with others, experts say.
"If women are overcome by something it is the desire to maintain or intensify their relationships," said Dr John Locke, the author of Eavesdropping: An Intimate History and Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently.
But it's not just women who are doing all the talking. Studies have shown that men gossip as much as women -- they simply go about it in an entirely different way.
"Men talk about mutual acquaintances, but they usually do it less quietly and intimately," said Locke, who is the professor of linguistics at Lehman College, City University of New York.
Talking about one another is rooted in our DNA, and was once an essential way of policing societies and ensuring order.
"Gossip was also used as a means of punishing misbehaviour," says Locke. "In bands of hunter-gatherers, those who failed to honour their family obligations, hoarded food, or acted like a 'big shot' were identified and ostracised through gossip."
Sharing secrets among friends can also build stronger bonds, allowing gossipers to build alliances over a secret that may make everyone feel better about their own lives.
When women gossip about Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage, or let slip whose marriage in their own circle is on the rocks, they are really using these examples as a way to figure out what to do in their own lives, experts say.
A recent Dutch study on gossiping found that employees who share secrets with a few select colleagues forge closer bonds. But the same study found that colleagues who gossip indiscriminately are trusted and liked less.