Gossip as social glue: an investigation into the potential mediating role of oxytocin

PhD Student
Konrad Rudnicki

Charlotte De Backer
Carolyn Declerck

Across time and cultures, gossip has proven to be a universal behavior that strengthens social cohesion and increases trust, presumably because of its stress-reduction and social information-sharing functions. So far, the underlying biological mechanisms of this relation have received little or no attention. We suspect that the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT), which is known to have an important role in regulating social behaviors in all mammals, is likely to be involved. OT levels increase when receiving a trust signal or sharing a secret, two behaviors that also have been attributed to the act of gossip. Hence it is conceivable that gossiping may stimulate OT release, which in turn, promote positive in-group dynamics The purpose of the proposed study is to investigate if, and how, OT could have a mediating role in the relation between gossip on the one hand, and trust and cooperation on the other hand. In addition, we will investigate the moderating effects of individual differences (gender and personality traits) and contextual factors (gossip between friends vs. strangers). We propose a set of laboratory experiments whereby we test whether gossiping participants (compared to solitary or non-gossiping participants) show (1) a temporary increase in salivary OT level (i.e., a greater OT reactivity) and (2) an increase in trust and willingness to cooperate with group members. This project is innovative because it merges two streams of research that have up to now been pursued mostly independently. On the one hand, the social sciences have addressed how and when gossip facilitates social cohesion. On the other hand, in the field of psychoneuroendocrinology, increasing attention is paid to the underlying neural circuits and chemicals that underscore prosocial behaviors like trusting and cooperating. So far both fields of expertise have not been linked to each other. Given the ubiquity of gossip in all cultures and its pervasiveness in almost every aspect of life, we believe the outcomes of this project will appeal to different scientific domains and society at large.


Research team
Media, ICT and interpersonal relations in Organisations and Society (MIOS)