Why are people interested in listening to gossip about others' achievements and failures? To promote self-reflection and growth.
According to a study, listening to gossip may actually help individuals adapt to a particular social environment.
For the study, the team asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual.
Participants were then asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion and self-protection value of the gossip.
"For example, hearing positive stories about others may be informative because they suggest ways to improve oneself," explained lead researcher Elena Martinescu from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
On the other hand, 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 fear because upward social comparisons with competitors are threatening, researchers found.
Hearing negative gossip may be flattering because it suggests that others may not function as well as 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," Martinescu added.
Researchers also found that individuals with a mastery goal are more likely to learn from positive gossip than individuals with a performance goal. The latter experience a concern for self-protection in response to positive gossip.
The study was published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.