Why Do People Gossip? 6 Reasons Why People Talk Behind Your Back

Photo: Svitlana Sokolova / Shutterstock
woman whispering gossip in another woman's ear

Whether you bring up what's going on in other people's lives while catching up with an old friend or browsing TMZ headlines in the morning, we all tend to gossip.

In fact, a 2019 study published in the Journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people spend about 52 minutes a day gossiping.

But why do people gossip?

While you may have a stereotypical idea of what a gossip is (such as a teenage girl who talks about her friends behind their backs), the truth is that we're all guilty of gossiping.

And though the word "gossip" carries a negative connotation, studies have shown that gossip is usually mostly neutral and about social information as opposed to someone else's physical looks or personaal achievements.

That said, it's still interesting to understand the reasons why people gossip, so here are a few reasons why people talk behind your back.

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1. People crave a sense of intimacy.

Someone who talks about other people might be convinced that gossiping is a form of intimacy. And in some ways, it is. 

Frank T. McAndrew, Ph.D., the Cornelia H. Dudley Professor of Psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, told NBC News that "gossiping is a social skill."

However, building a relationship on negative gossip isn’t a good idea.

If all you do is gossip about people, it can make it difficult for your friends to fully trust you.

2. People are insecure.

If someone can't stop criticizing their peers, it's a good sign that they are also hyper-critical of themselves.

The kinder you are to yourself, the kinder you will be to others. It goes both ways.

People who don't feel the need to gossip about others are sure of themselves or they've found a healthier way to cope with their frustrations about others.

3. People need reassurance.

There is a difference between positive gossip and negative gossip. 

Telling your friend about a serial cheater to prevent them from dating them is different from gossiping to one of your roommates about the other.

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Be smart and selective about who you decide you're comfortable sharing information with, and focus on sharing helpful information instead of negative information.

It's okay to complain and vent about your life, just watch out! You never know who might spread your secrets.

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4. People are lonely and bored with their lives.

Sometimes people don't feel secure in their relationships or friendships. 

They've forgotten how to behave like a normal adult around others. 

Or perhaps, they are so bored with their lives that they have to invent a reason to be upset. 

5. People are trying to spread information.

Let's say you've just started a new position at a company where a lot of your co-workers have been working for a long time. If a co-worker gives information about how the boss reacts negatively to tardiness, it could be helpful information to learn.

This is called pro-social gossip which is a good thing because it's ultimately used to help and promote cooperation between others.

6. People are afraid to work on themselves.

Instead of questioning their own actions, people rely on gossip as a form of self-validation.

YourTango Expert Susan Kulakowski explains that "We validate our own opinions when the other gossiper agrees."

However, she warns that "There's nothing to be learned about ourselves or others when we gossip. Gossip is a means of reinforcing the opinion, 'I’m right. We’re right. No need to open our minds to new ideas or experiences.'"

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Izzy Casey covers pop culture and entertainment for YourTango.

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