Despite gossip’s dodgy reputation, a surprisingly small share of it—as little as 3 to 4 percent—is actually malicious. [4] And even that portion can bring people together. Research-ers at the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma found that if two people share negative feelings about a third person, they are likely to feel closer to each other than they would if they both felt positively about him or her. [5]

Gossip may even make us better people. A team of Dutch researchers reported that hearing gossip about others made research subjects more reflective; positive gossip inspired self-improvement efforts, and negative gossip made people prouder of themselves. [6] In another study, the worse participants felt upon hearing a piece of negative gossip, the more likely they were to say they had learned a lesson from it. [7] Negative gossip can also have a prosocial effect on those who are gossiped about. Researchers at Stanford and UC Berkeley found that once people were ostracized from a group due to reputed selfishness, they reformed their ways in an attempt to regain the approval of the people they had alienated. [8]