Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Evolution of Gossip By Jamilah Cherry

There is a certain inevitability of being talked about. Whether you like it or not there is undoubtedly going to be someone discussing their thoughts about you, positive or negative. Top 3 reasons people seem to find me interesting: I blaze, I paint, I don’t let other peoples thoughts limit my experiences. I don’t really think those are good reasons to find me interesting. I feel like I'm pretty normal actually but hey …it is what it is. I’ve made it my mission to substantially decrease the level of chatter with my name in it regardless of what its about. I’ve lowered the number of people who know all there is to know about me to a maximum of 3, not including my sister who has been there my entire life. I have also removed myself from conversations about other people. Being in conversations where people do nothing but talk about other people is one of the top 5 weakest situations. It makes my soul bored and irritable… and that’s an understatement.

So why is it that a few days ago I stumbled upon a rumor with my name in it that originated from a misunderstanding that occurred about a year ago. A YEAR ago? Really? Mind you this person has no idea who I am, just knows my name. But they took it upon themselves to continue to spread the gossip about me. I found it funny that they were also talking to someone who they had no clue knew me. What is so enticing about gossip that makes it irresistible to share? It was reported by a Social Issues Research Center that gossip accounts for 55% of men's conversation time and 67% of women's. That’s a lot of gossip.

Nigel Nicholson, Ph.D., discusses the evolutionary reasons why humanity is a beehive of communication.
Evolutionary psychology argues that human nature--our psychological architecture as much as our physical form--was shaped to survive and reproduce under a particular set of conditions. This was the existence of clan-dwelling primates, who subsisted by foraging and hunting in a savanna-like environment. It is only in recent biological times that we left the world of clan-dwelling primates for the world of agriculture, city settlements and, eventually, business organizations.

In evolutionary psychology, several elements conspire to give gossip pride of place. First is the physiological capability of speech. Evolution gave us a stunning ability to vocalize by allowing the windpipe full access to the thorax and vocal chords. The second element is language. We have brains endowed with speech centers that allow every growing child to perform the greatest miracle of learning in nature--the acquisition of nearly 13,000 words by the age of six, rising to 60,000 by adulthood. Hella words. There are three very essential functions of gossip: networking, influence and social alliances.Gossip is inevitable and blameless--the problem lies instead in its content, which reflects precisely what is going on in people's minds.


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