What you say matters: Moving beyond gossiping extent to explore the positive effects of gossip truthfulness and gossip interestingness

Ryan Outlaw, Michael D. Baer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Whereas substantial research portrays gossip as a detrimental behavior, other work observes that gossip performs essential social functions, such as distributing valuable information. Collectively, the literature indicates that gossip has the potential to harm and benefit the relationship between the gossip sender and receiver. Our study brings consensus to this conversation by drawing a distinction between how much gossiping occurs—gossiping extent—and characteristics of that gossip—gossip truthfulness and gossip interestingness. Drawing on social exchange theory and cognitive-motivational-relational theory, we build a within-person theoretical model that proposes gossip truthfulness will strengthen the receiver's perception of the social exchange relationship, whereas gossip interestingness will increase the receiver's state happiness. Ultimately, these proximal reactions will increase the receiver's helping behavior toward the sender. We tested our model with a 15-day experience sampling study (Study 1) and an experiment (Study 2). Results showed that gossip truthfulness had a positive effect on the receiver's perception of the social exchange relationship, leading the receiver to provide more helping behavior to the sender. Gossip interestingness had a positive effect on the receiver's state happiness, leading to increased helping behavior toward the sender. Gossip interestingness also had a serial indirect effect on helping behavior, via increased state happiness that increased receiver social exchange perceptions. In contrast, gossiping extent had a negative indirect effect on helping behavior via decreased receiver happiness, as well as a negative serial indirect effect via decreased receiver happiness and social exchange perceptions. Our model provides employees with insights into how gossip impacts the sender–receiver relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-554
Number of pages28
JournalPersonnel Psychology
Volume77
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2024

Keywords

  • Gossip
  • experience sampling
  • happiness
  • social exchange theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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