Talking behind people's backs is the key to a long and healthy life, scientist claims

Sarah Spickernell
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Men gossip for more than an hour a day, on average (Source: Getty)
Despite being frowned upon by society, gossiping is one of the best things you can do to improve your health.
This was the message given earlier today by Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford University. He told an audience at Cheltenham Science Festival gossip is what “makes us human”, and that it has only recently been branded as negative.
“The most important thing that will prevent you dying is the size of the social network,” he explained. “That has a bigger effect size than anything, except giving up cigarettes. Your social network has a huge effect on happiness and wellbeing.”
He added that gossiping is much more than just a mean hobby, because it enables us to pass on important information about our surroundings, such as who to trust and who to avoid.
The problem we have is how to maintain our social networks. Language evolved to allow us to keep the oil of the social network flowing, keep us up to date, and tell stories which is really important for community cohesion.
Gossiping is just chatting with people and keeping up to date with the social world in which you live. So gossip is what makes us human. The use of gossip in a negative sense is not seen until the 18th century. It used to be what you did with your friends.
His claim is backed by a number of studies, too – last year, researchers at Stanford University showed how gossip benefits society by encouraging cooperation and reforming bullies, while a poll of 5,000 people by showed how men and women gossip for an average of 76 minutes and 52 minutes a day, respectively.

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