Researchers in a new study have studied the effect positive and negative gossip has on how the recipient evaluates him or herself.
The study conducted at University of Groningen in the Netherlands studied the
The first study asked participants to recall an incident where they received either positive or negative gossip about another individual. Participants were then asked questions to measure the self-improvement, self-promotion, and self-protection value of the received gossip information.
Individuals that received positive gossip had increased self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had increased self-promotion value. Negative gossip also increased self-protection concerns.
Participants in the second study were assigned the role of a sales agent and asked to imagine they had written a job description that was presented to them. Participants received either negative or positive gossip about another's job performance. This scenario included an achievement goal manipulation with two conditions i.e. a performance goal condition, and a mastery goal condition.
People who have a salient performance goal strive to demonstrate superior competence by outperforming other people. People who have a salient mastery goal strive to develop competence by learning new knowledge, abilities, and skills.
First study showed that positive gossip had more self-improvement value, whereas negative gossip had self-promotion value and raised self-protection concerns. Negative gossip elicited pride due to its self-promotion value since it provides individuals with social comparison information that justifies self-promotional judgments.
The second study found that individuals with a mastery goal are more likely to learn from positive gossip than individuals with a performance goal, while the latter experience more concern for self-protection in response to positive gossip. Individuals who pursue performance goals feel threatened by positive gossip because rivals' success translates to their own failure.
According to the study, gossip provides individuals with indirect social comparison information, which is in-turn valued highly by receivers because it provides an essential resource for self-evaluation.
The study is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.