Editorial: Psst…did you hear?


As Gretchen Wieners asked Karen Smith in 2004’s “Mean Girls,” “If someone said something bad about you, you’d want me to tell you, right? What if it was someone you thought was your friend?”

While gossip may be seen as a modern phenomenon, according to Frank T. McAndrew, a professor of Psychology at Knox College, it is generally accepted by social scientists that gossip has an evolutionary benefit: it allowed for alliances to be formed, and therefore, gave our distant ancestors a better chance at survival and passing down their genes. 

Through gossiping, people became well-informed about power dynamics and who could be trustworthy, while those who were uninterested in doing so were disadvantaged. 

Gossip can be defined as any talk about someone who isn’t present, typically surrounding a topic that can be used to make a moral judgment about that person. 

But there seems to be a line to be drawn. 

Although gossip has social benefits, we do not condone spreading misinformation or theoretical statements about others. While you can complain to your roommate about your other roommate never contributing to the upkeep of your apartment, you shouldn’t be deducing the nature of their moral character.

Research has shown that about 14% of people’s conversations include gossip, while mostly taking a neutral tone. 

The negative connotation of gossip comes from its ability to spread rumors or slander rapidly. 

We see in television shows and movies that gossip can go as far as character assassination. The foundation of the popular television show “Gossip Girl” is built on the characters who are often maliciously talking about others behind their backs. 

The adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” holds true when making hypothetical assumptions. However, gossiping with others based on known truths, without harmful intentions, may give you a sense of relief and help you make connections with others. 

As humans, we have a deep-rooted need to relate to others and form connections. For thousands of years, humans have survived by using connection, communication and cooperation with others.

Advantages of these relationships included collaboration for innovation, being able to work together to fend off predators and help to look after each other’s children, which all promoted survival. 

Maintaining social connectedness with those around us, such as friends and family, can protect us from feeling harmful effects of stressful experiences. A shared viewpoint can make a friendship grow closer, especially in a situation where there is an opportunity to discuss relatable experiences. 

Studies published by ResearchGate and bioRxiv concluded venting to convey our emotions to others reduces stress and provides a stronger sense of belonging with the person we are sharing with. If the person responds with sympathy, we will likely feel understood and supported. 

It’s no question our friends, and especially our roommates, play a large role in our lives. For most people, college is the first experience of living with people who aren’t your family.

Observing your roommates’ tendencies may leave you questioning how they were raised, which may lead you to express these thoughts to trustworthy people around you. For example, if your roommate leaves dirty dishes in the sink, you might wonder if this is what they were taught was acceptable growing up, and share this divulgence with other roommates.

But gossiping can also come with guilt when trying to ensure you get what you want to say off your chest without going too far, saying too much or talking to the wrong person. In an ideal world, simply being concise and avoiding rambling to untrustworthy sources should be enough to avoid this. 

This is easier said than done. 

People are bound to the heat of the moment where we unnecessarily judge someone else. 

You don’t want to be the one to say too much, but you also don’t want to be the person who cuts off the other person’s passionate rant because of your own guilt. 

Venting, debriefing, ranting, “tea time” — whatever you want to call it, is almost inevitable. As college students who surround themselves with the same people for months on end, we want to form strong relationships, as some of us may be far away from our family and in an unfamiliar environment.

Therefore, we resort to complaining to one another, possibly involving talking about others we commonly know. Whether this is a friend, a roommate or a classmate you are talking to, before you accept this information as the end-all-be-all, try to make sure it is the truth and not a heightened overreaction. 

As journalists, we are taught to do accuracy checks when finding information. We want to make sure you understand the importance of this, too.  

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1 Comment

  1. Bob Davenport on

    Good editorial. It’s always good to think before speaking and to consider that what you have heard or what are saying is accurate. Determining truth is one step further.

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