I have this little problem: I tend to think that people are gossiping or talking about me behind my back. It’s totally paranoid and ridiculous, but I wanted to know if I was alone. So, I asked our Twitter followers if they agreed with this statement: “I often think people are talking about me behind my back.”

30% of people replied True and 70% said False. There is a third of you who also experiences this paranoia. The question is, is there any science to this?

Gossiping is in Our Genes

It turns out the 30% of people like me who are paranoid have good reason to be. Researchers estimate that anywhere from 65% to 80% of conversations are gossip. Those statistics are based on the percentage of conversations that we have about people–both positive and negative. As social creatures, we focus a lot of our attention on other people and that comes through in what we talk about.

So, chances are, people are talking about you behind your back but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Psychologists theorize that talking about other people is a habit that likely evolved as a safety mechanism. Thousands of years ago, when humans lived in small hunter-gather societies, people’s survival depended on them knowing who they could trust and who they should avoid. Gossiping helped people keep tabs on who was the most volatile and likely to betray members of the group, who was the most dependable and whose families’ were the healthiest and best to reproduce with.

What’s even more powerful is that our brains pay more attention to people we’ve heard negative gossip about. Talking about others behind their back gives people a greater sense of awareness so they can be on guard around potentially threatening individuals.

Warning: Think about the consequences before talking about your drama. Telling others about the annoying and/or hurtful things people have done to you can turn a temporary disagreement into a long-term problem where people struggle to feel comfortable around the person you spoke negatively about.

Talking About Others Fights Uncertainty

Another reason researchers believe that people love to talk about others behind their backs is the sense of certainty that it provides. Given the huge role that people play in our lives, we have an innate need to be able to understand and predict people’s behavior. Telling stories about other people while speculating about and/or filling in the blanks of what we don’t know helps us make sense of the individuals in our social circles.

It also encourages pro-social, conformist behavior. Stanford researchers discovered that our natural tendency to criticize people behind their backs fosters group unity because people fear the social consequences of acting in ways that may cause rumors to spread about them.

While this limits individualism, groups depend on knowing that their members are going to act roughly according to their norms. When one member chooses to behave differently, it lessens the group’s sense of stability. Gossiping is a way for people to rationalize the individual’s surprising actions and discourage other people from creating a similar upset.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

9 replies on “Do You Ever Feel Like People Are Gossiping Behind Your Back?”

  1. Raecheal

    My business was burnt to the ground a direct result of lies & gossip it’s taken me years to recover from the affects. I suffered a breakdown the thought of people hating me enough to burn down a barn full of horses to make that point shook me to the core . I drank myself into oblivion & thankfully now have recovered but I have constant paranoia about people gossiping ‘ I struggle with trust & often need to withdraw from everyone to recover from these bouts , I always will carry this never ending fear of gossip

  2. Sarah Nobel

    I do agree with those who regard gossip as harmful and gossipers as people who lack social skills. I’ve learned that I was the topic of bad gossip at a party and the people there all made fun of me, exactly when I was very lonely, struggling with anxiety disorder, and experiencing an emotional breakdown. When I learned about the gossip, it really hurt, and still, it does! No matter if you know they were unfair and they are a bunch of people who lack self-esteem and proper social manners; this does not reduce the pain.

  3. Elizabeth Callaway

    Although your story was informative and made me not so afraid, you did not suggest how I can cope with it. I felt the story was only half told. Thank you.

  4. Sadie

    I think it is very dangerous and wrong to try to justify something that is obviously wrong. Gossip, talking about someone behind their back, is NEVER ok. It is harmful not just to the person they’re talking about, but harmful to the gossipers. How? By making the gossipers heart harder, filled with greater negativity while looking at the bad, wrong or weaknesses in other people. It’s making yourself feel better by pointing out and putting other down. Gossip, which is talking about someone behind their back, is wrong. And wrong actions have bad or negative consequences. It will always inevitably reap wrong, negative and/or hurtful things. You do reap what you sow. You sow gossip, you will reap hurt feelings, mistrust, division and broken relationships. So if you participate in gossip, whether by talking or listening, be prepared for what you will reap.

  5. Bonnie Mihills

    I agree with Julie Humphreys. Gossiping can very hurtful and the start of bullying. We have all heard the results of bullying. In some cases the victim is killed not to mention what it does mentally to the victim. Gossiping can often become a habit people don’t know how to socialize without speaking badly of others. Gossiping is handed down through generations. Parents teach their children by the example they set. Gossiping is a slippery slope. Some people don’t know when to stop. If you have ever been guilty of gossiping or repeating gossip think back on how you felt at the time you were telling the story. If your honest you will realize that you like the attention you were receiving from others at the time. People gossip to build themselves up at the expense of others. Victims of gossip carry that baggage with them for life. If they have been the victim several times they learn to mistrust people.

  6. Julie Humphreys

    Gossip is good until you’re the victim of it! I don’t agree with evolutionary psychologists who go about defending gossip as a necessary social function. I think gossips are empty headed individuals who have not the imagination to put their brain power into something productive. When you endorse gossip the evolution stops there. Probably at some cave people level!

    1. Jackie French

      It’s the old saying you mother used to tell you. ‘If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all’. People who say terrible things about people are not nice people at all, its the other old saying ‘The pot calling the kettle black’ – Look at yourself and your circumstances before making up a story or retelling a lie that you have heard.

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