friendships

Gossip guys: Men and women dish dirt differently

May 23, 2012 at 8:55 AM ET

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By Cari Nierenberg 

Would anyone watch a TV spinoff on the CW called "Gossip Guy"? No, the network isn't considering it -- but a new study suggests that it would definitely have different story lines and dialogue than the original hit show.

When dudes dish the dirt, those conversations have a very different effect on male friendships than it does when girls gossip with their female pals, a Canadian researcher has found.

"I was surprised to find that the relationship between friendship and gossip was different for men compared to women," says study author Dr. David C. Watson, an assistant professor of psychology at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton.

For the study, published online in the journal Sex Roles, researchers asked 167 female and 69 male college students to complete both a "friendship" and "tendency to gossip" questionnaire. Students ranged in age from 17 to 29.

Overall, women tended to gossip more than men, which is no big shocker.

And when it came to the topics the ladies preferred to talk about, the study showed they scored highest on gossiping about another person's physical appearance as in, "OMG, love the new haircut!" or "Those are sooo not the right pants for her."

Gals also had higher scores than guys on "social information gossip," meaning they knew what was going on. They could gab about who's dating whom, who broke up or hooked up, or who hates their boss.

Men scored lower in these two gossip categories. But they did score slightly higher when it came to "achievement related gossip," which refers to shooting the breeze about grades or salaries, and other status-oriented stuff.

But where the big difference between men and women turned up, was the effect of gossip on friendship.

"The male friendship is more characterized by engaging in group activities," explains Watson, "so gossip can serve to enhance the bond between individuals within the group."

Gossip was shown to have a moderately strong effect on male friendships, perhaps because bonding among bros is linked more with status. When guys have more knowledge and control of information, it's a way to get more status.

That wasn't the case with women. The results suggest there was very little relationship between gossip and the quality of female friendships.

"Female friendships are more characterized by communion or intimacy," says Watson. "Gossip can be more of a threat to the relationship than it does in male friendships."

If the gossipers were older, would there have been similar results? "It's possible," points out Watson. He says that two other studies done on slightly older males found that "gossip was important in enforcing the norms of the group and indicating who belongs to the group."

While gossip has its place in the "social glue" of our lives, it also has the potential to hurt and harm.

"Gossip does have an important friendship function as it can be positive, negative, or neutral," Watson says. "It's function may be different due to the nature of male and female friendships," he adds.

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