Gossip and bullying doesn‚Äôt just exist within high school and the movie Mean Girls.
Research from the University of¬†Florida has found that adult women use the same gossiping techniques as teenage girls to damage another woman‚Äôs reputation¬†and try to gain an advantage in romantic relationships.
Lead researcher and doctoral student Tara Reynolds led five studies that found women were more likely to spread negative information about a woman perceived as a threat to their romantic prospects.¬†
Women strategically used gossip to target a rival who posed either a direct or indirect threat.¬†
‚ÄėIt‚Äôs consequential because a woman‚Äôs reputation still predicts her access to romantic partners, friendships or professional collaborations, and this research shows gossip can substantially shift social perceptions,‚Äô said Reynolds.¬†
‚ÄėPeople tend to give more weight to negative personal information because they consider it a truer indication of a person‚Äôs character than positive details.‚Äô¬†
Direct threats involve situations such as a woman trying to steal another woman‚Äôs boyfriend. An indirect threat is more subtle, such as a woman who is¬†physically attractive or ‚Äėprovocatively‚Äô dressed.
One study had an attractive woman to wear two very different clothing styles and, in each case, share the same graphic details about her sexual activity to female participants, even though the disclosure could be devastating to her reputation.
Reynolds discovered that women who heard this damaging information were more likely to spread it when the speaker wore a low-cut shirt showing cleavage than when she dressed conservatively.
She¬†published her findings in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and also discovered highly competitive women spread negative information about their same-sex peers indiscriminately.
‚ÄėThis pattern suggests competitive females may be the primary perpetrators of adolescent bullying and then harmful workplace rumors,‚Äô Reynolds said.
Social media has made spreading rumors and gossip even easier than in the past. Reynolds hopes that calling attention to the behavior is the first step in preventing it.
‚ÄėIf school counselors know the predictors of female bullying, and they understand it manifests in subtle ways like gossiping, then they‚Äôll be better equipped to detect it and deal with it,‚Äô Reynolds said.¬†
‚ÄėThis research shows adult women demonstrate similar behaviors of adolescent bullies, and manipulating reputations can have serious consequences.‚Äô¬†
One unexpected finding of the study, Reynolds said, was that sometimes women shared gossip about an attractive woman, perceived as a threat, whether they liked her or not.
‚ÄėThat makes me think women don‚Äôt really know they‚Äôre doing it, or they‚Äôre not doing it maliciously,‚Äô Reynolds said.¬†
‚ÄėIf you can spread gossip without seeming mean, or if you phrase it with concern, such as, ‚ÄėI am worried about her because she‚Äôs not making good choices,‚Äô then the gossiper is perceived as a better friend, compared to one who gossips maliciously.¬†
‚ÄėShe can preserve her reputation while still harming a rival‚Äôs. That suggests concerned gossip is an effective tactic, and women may not even consciously know they‚Äôre doing it.‚Äô