When women get together, the conversation often slips into gossip. And a new study suggests that this tactic may be a way to badmouth potential rivals who are competing for a man’s attention.
The findings suggest that gossiping is a highly evolved social skill and is essential for relationships to form.
Researchers from the University of Ottawa looked at why the topic of men and women’s gossip tends to vary.
Although both sexes love to chatter, women tend to gossip about other women’s looks, while men talk about wealth and the athleticism of their competitors.
The researchers suggest that gossiping is a highly evolved social skill and an intrasexual competition tactic that relates to women’s and men’s evolved preferences.
Their study involved 290 heterosexual students aged between 17 and 30 years old, who completed three questionnaires.
The first measured how competitive the participants were towards members of the same sex, especially in terms of access to the attention of potential mates.
The other questionnaires measured the tendency of the participants to gossip about others, the perceived social value of gossip, and whether it is okay to talk about others behind their backs.
Results showed that people who were competitive towards members of their own sex had a greater tendency to gossip, and were more comfortable with the practice than others. Women tended to gossip more than men, and also enjoyed it more.
The topics gossiped about also varied between the sexes, with men more likely to gossip about the achievements of others, and women targeting the physical appearance of another.
Women also found gossip to have greater social value, which the researchers suggest may allow them to gather more information about possible competitors in the game of finding a mate.
Mr Adam Davis, who led the study, said: ‘The findings demonstrate that gossip is intimately linked to mate competition and not solely the product of a female gender stereotype that may be viewed as pejorative.
‘It is a highly evolved social skill essential for interpersonal relationships, rather than a flaw of character.’