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Frank McAndrew

Knox College
The Evolutionary Psychology of Gossip
Given the importance of gossip in the life of human groups, it is curious that psychologists have paid so little attention to it. No empirical work on gossip by psychologists appeared until the 1990s, and theoretical considerations of gossip have traditionally relegated it to being a mere by-product of social comparison processes. In a series of five experiments my colleagues and I have tested hypotheses about gossip derived from an evolutionary perspective. The first three experiments uncovered a consistent pattern of interest in gossip about others of the same age and gender as ourselves. Furthermore, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that gossip serves as a strategy of status-enhancement, as we prefer information that is exploitable for social gain: Damaging, negative news about rivals and positive news about allies. Three of the studies specifically examined the roots of our pervasive interest in gossip about celebrities. These studies indicate that celebrity gossip provides an avenue for acquiring fitness-enhancing information, especially for younger people, and that it is also a way of enriching one's social network.
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