Adam Davis of the University of Ottawa in Canada, who carried out the research, posits that gossiping is actually a highly evolved social skill, rather than a character flaw. Through gossiping members of the opposite sex have an opportunity to show off their desirable characteristics to each other, also known as intrasexual competition.
Davis's new study is now the first to provide verifiable evidence for a positive link between intrasexual competitiveness, the amount of gossip that people take part in, and whether they believe it is ok to gossip.
For the research Davis and his team recruited at 290 heterosexual Canadian students between the ages of 17 and 30 years old and asked them to complete three questionnaires.
One questionnaire measured how competitive the participants are towards other members of their own sex, especially if they see them as a potential competitor for a mate.
The other two questionnaires measured how likely people were to gossip about others and if they think gossiping is acceptable.
The results showed that those who were more competitive towards other members of their own sex were more likely to gossip, and more likely to think that gossiping about someone behind their back was ok.
The team also found that women were more likely to gossip than men, enjoyed it more, and saw more social value in participating in gossip, which would allow them to gain more information about possible competitors when finding a mate.
Women were also more likely to gossip about others' physical appearance and share social information, whereas men were more likely to gossip about the achievements of others.
"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," states Davis, who believes that therapists, counsellors, educators, and the general public should rethink their stance about gossip. "It is a highly evolved social skill essential for interpersonal relationships, rather than a flaw of character."
The findings can be found published online in Evolutionary Psychological Science.