Gossip your way to happiness?

By Ann Griswold • Published: September 14th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The humorist Dave Barry once said that the most powerful force in the universe is gossip. While it may not be THE most powerful force, a new study finds that gossip does exert powerful effects on the emotions.

Researchers at the University of Michigan studied these effects by pairing one-hundred-sixty female college students. Half the pairs were instructed to proofread a botany manuscript, while the other half asked each other intimate questions about their personal lives. After twenty minutes, researchers measured levels of the anti-stress hormone, progesterone, in each student’s saliva.

Progesterone is a female hormone that fluctuates throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle and increases drastically during pregnancy. Previous studies have suggested that progesterone plays a role in social bonding but researchers have yet to pinpoint how.

The scientists found that progesterone increased in women who chatted about their personal lives, but decreased in women who proofread the botany manuscript. A week later, the same pairs interacted again with the same effects on progesterone levels. This time, pairs who chatted during their initial meeting expressed a greater willingness to risk their lives for their partners.

The researchers say progesterone appears to foster social bonding by increasing altruism. Women who bond through social interactions experience a rise in progesterone that reduces stress and anxiety, and increases their sense of well-being.

So when Barbara Walters said, “Show me someone who never gossips, and I’ll show you someone who isn’t interested in people,” she might have been onto something!