Everybody Gossips (and That’s a Good Thing) (Ep. 152)

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(Photo: R/DV/RS)

(Photo: R/DV/RS)

Our latest podcast is called “Everybody Gossips (and That’s a Good Thing).” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

In the show, Stephen Dubner talks about what gossip is, or isn’t; about the characteristics of the people who produce and consume gossip; and about the functions of gossip, good and bad. You’ll hear from our usual assortment of professors and theorists but also from TV/movie star Adrian Grenier (talking about what it’s like to be the subject of gossip) and Nick Denton, the publisher of Gawker (whose tagline is “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s news”).

The episode begins with Tom Corley, a CPA and the author of Rich Habits – The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals. Corley spent five years surveying rich and poor people about their daily habits. Here’s what he claims to have found about gossip:

CORLEY: Six percent of the wealthy gossip, compare that to 79 percent of the poor who gossip. This is one of those habits that really sticks out like that Grand Canyon of differences that I saw. This is one that really sends that message home that wealthy people and poor people do certain things differently on a daily basis.

Next, Dubner visits Gawker Media headquarters, where we find that Denton, unsurprisingly, is staunchly pro-gossip. But he thinks Corley’s premise is entirely wrong:

DENTON: [This] is simply a matter of class prejudice. It’s simply a matter of saying the things that [poor people] talk about, the people that they talk about aren’t important. It doesn’t meet the standard or news so let’s call it gossip. It’s just fishwives; it’s fishwives chattering about their husbands or some infidelity. There’s no difference between that and power gossip, and money gossip, except that the people who decide what is news and what is gossip are the privileged people who look down on lower class.

You’ll also hear from Adrian Chen and Caity Weaver. Chen used to write for Gawker; Weaver still does. Weaver tells us about one of the more salacious gossip posts she wrote about a certain TV star’s anatomy. It got almost 1 million page views.

Jenny Cole, a psychology lecturer at Staffordshire University, tells us how gossip makes the gossiper feel. And Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton (and an author) talks about why he gossips.

GRANT: But beyond the social lubrication I think there’s another piece that’s quite important, which is gossip is a warning device.

Rounding out the episode: Steve Levitt on the juiciest economics gossip he can come up with; Nicholas DiFonzo, a professor of psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who studies rumor; Stephanie Kelley, on gossip in wartime; and, rounding out the show, Adrian Grenier, currently shooting a film version of Entourage, tells us how gossip can be valuable if you’re willing to listen to it.

Keith Kelley

Listening to this radio commentary was very interesting. I find that people enjoy gossips especially when it negative, rather than when it has to deal with positive. Negative gossip goes along way. And a lot time it changes from the start, by the time it gets to the end. People gossip because they want to be the first person to get the information out to the public normally. Depending on what the gossip is will determine how long and how far it would go.


I thought that the study of the effects of "giving" gossip were interesting, but I was surprised they didn't think to study the effect on people who are "receiving" gossip. You might find that the person getting the gossip feels happier. In addition, because it seems to me that a fair amount of reciprocity is expected whenever you hear gossip (i.e. I told you a secret, now you are obligated to share some secret with me), then maybe the unhappy effect of giving out gossip is outweighed by the happy effect you potentially receive in return. Further, for celebrity news/gossip information sources, most of the content consumers aren't providing gossip, they are only taking it in. If receiving gossip on balance makes you happier, then that may explain why those places even exist to begin with. In that instance, you get the plus side of receiving gossip, but none of the downside from giving it?