Sharing salacious titbits with others seems to be a necessity and is a habit dating from when we were cave-dwellers; it evolved as a way of ensuring we got our fill when the hunters hauled a carcass into the cave. Gossip was a means of swapping social information about people in the group – to find out how they might behave when it came to sharing the spoils.
Nowadays, gossiping is still vital to group cohesion. Dr Gill says: “It’s a good way of finding out what kinds of behaviour are socially acceptable in your group. If somebody raises their eyebrows as they tell you something about somebody else, you modify your behaviour accordingly.”
As a prolific gossip, I agree that sharing a bit of tittle-tattle can give a delicious thrill, a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God frisson. Is that healthy? “Not if the gossip is malicious and unpleasant,” says Dr Gill. “Then it can make the people party to it feel stressed. And gossiping can backfire if you peddle something you know to be untrue, as people can feel anxious about being caught out.”
Indeed, the British Psychological Society has published research that found that gossiping is good for you – as long as it is tempered by a spirit of concern. Which is just as well, because clearly many of us love to gossip, on Twitter and Facebook, on the golf course and, uninhibitedly, on mobile phones. “Gossip is a necessary part of human life,” says Gill. “Ninety-nine per cent of what people communicate is about other people. It’s one of the key things that makes us successful as a species. Without it we’d die.”