An experiment to study the nature of gossip and ostracism suggests both serve important roles in society: reforming bullies and encouraging cooperation.

“Groups that allow their members to gossip,” says Matthew Feinberg, a Stanford University postdoctoral researcher, “sustain cooperation and deter selfishness better than those that don’t. And groups do even better if they can gossip and ostracize untrustworthy members. While both of these behaviors can be misused, our findings suggest that they also serve very important functions for groups and society.” …

The researchers found that when people learn — through gossip — about the behavior of others, they use this information to align with those deemed cooperative. Those who have behaved selfishly can then be excluded from group activities, based on the prevailing gossip. This serves the group’s greater good, for selfish types are known to exploit more-cooperative people for their own gains.