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Gossip Rules Memory

In an article from New Scientist, “The secret to soap opera addiction”, it appears that people are more interested in gossip than about their day-to-day lives.

Humans are more interested in juicy gossip about their friends and acquaintances than the mundane details of their lives, so pay more attention to it

We remember juicy gossip about our friends and acquaintances far more readily than more mundane details about their lives – which may explain why people become so addicted to gossipy media such as soap operas.

To find out whether gossip spreads through groups of people better than other information about them, UK-based researchers Alex Mesoudi and Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews and Robin Dunbar of the University of Liverpool used a method akin to “Chinese whispers”.

The research involved something like the “telephone game” or “whisper game” in which people pass messages to each other along a chain of people. What’s remembered tells you something about how important the information was to the teller and the listener. Gossip, especially “juicy” gossip like infidelity and deception, was remembered better than other messages.

A lot of blogging is based upon gossip, conjecture, and ineuendo. There are a lot of blogs filled with nasty and gritty details, wondering about celebrities and their lives. We are entranced with the fiction we see on the screen and fiction created around the stars in the shows. In politics, we want to know everything about how evil and nasty a person is and how they used that to corrupt their position. If someone kills another person (or more), we become obsessed with the media circus that revolves around the action and the trial, creating a hero out of the criminal.

Having just recently moved back to the United States after a long absence from American culture, I was stunned to see people buying Star, National Enquirer, and other gossip and fiction rags. Even People Magazine, something I once felt rose above such gossip and lies, seems to have drifted down into the darkness of who is pregnant with whose baby, who is divorcing who and how much money will their public fight attract, who is sleeping with whose girl friend or boy friend, who is taking which drugs, and who is in jail and who is just out of jail.

I watched one woman look around and then sneak a magazine rag under her groceries in her cart. She stacked things on it as it passed down the conveyor belt. I suddenly thought about how the magazine rag business is doing financially now that so many people can get their gossip online, in the privacy of their homes.

It also got me thinking about truth in blogging. There are no rules or regulations that require what you write to be true. That’s part of the freedom of expression and personal voice blogging allows. Still, there is an almost unwritten standard that seems to apply to the most serious and dedicated of bloggers: attempt to tell the truth, and if not, tell the audience you aren’t sure.

This self-policing has actually created a confidence in the blogged word. Even traditional news agencies are turning to blogs for editorial insights as well as fact finding resources. Blogging is gaining respect.

Still, you can’t run away from the fact that people just love to gossip and enjoy smurking over the suffering or discretions of others. It’s an interesting conflict some bloggers face. Blog about the truth and stick to it, as boring as it may be, or go for the entertainment value, even to the point of making it up. Or sit somewhere in between. Interesting.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen

One Comment

  1. Posted March 22, 2006 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    My 2 cents – the blog should be consistent in the subject it handles, even if it is gossip.

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