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The Scoop on Relationship Gossip

Singles Aren't the Only People Interested in the Dish on Singles of the Opposite Sex
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 7, 2007 -- Single or not, people tend to remember juicy gossip about the relationships of potential mates.

That's according to Charlotte de Backer, PhD, a lecturer in the media and communication studies department at England's University of Leicester.

Why should people in relationships care about singles' romantic life? Perhaps they are "aware, to some degree, of [other people] who may serve as potential mates and as threats," de Backer says in a University of Leicester news release.

Gossip is at the heart of de Backer's graduate thesis in communication studies. In the thesis, de Backer calls gossip "chocolate for the mind," since "gossip is tempting and first boosts our happiness but can turn out bad [in] the long run."

The thesis, posted online, includes a study of relationship gossip in 84 undergraduate students at Belgium's University of Antwerp.

The students were about 19 years old, on average. Roughly half of them were in long-term relationships when the study was conducted in 2004-2005.

First, de Backer asked the students to imagine that they were about to get hired to work in an office. Next, she gave them a brochure to read about their imaginary future co-workers.

The brochure contained gossipy details from a fictional employee in the same imaginary office.

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

The fictional co-workers included "Stephanie," who was described as a single, rebellious, attractive graphic designer; "Carine," a jealous secretary; "Jean-Paul," the soon-to-be-divorced boss; and "Ricardo," a handsome graphic designer described as a "party boy."

The students read the profiles for 10-15 minutes. Then de Backer distracted the students giving the students an unrelated survey.

After the students completed the survey, de Backer surprised them with a pop quiz on their imaginary co-workers.

The quiz results show that, contrary to de Backer's predictions, single students weren't more likely than students in long-term relationships to remember gossip about characters of the opposite sex.

In addition, male and female students tended to remember whether their imaginary female co-workers were described as being physically attractive.

The students didn't appear to pay as much attention to whether their imaginary male co-workers were physically attractive.

The study doesn't prove that the students viewed their imaginary co-workers as potential boyfriends or girlfriends. More studies could provide further details on exactly what parts of relationship gossip are most tantalizing, de Backer suggests.

  • Do you like to gossip? Come on, fess up. Share the juicy details on the WebMD Health Cafe: Meet Your Neighbors message board.

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