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Health & Sex

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Gossip May Have a Protective Role

Study Suggests Gossiping May Help People Distinguish Friend From Foe

Gossip and Your Brain continued...

Participants next were shown two images -- one a face and the other an image of a house. It was only possible to look at one at a time. The participants pressed a key on a keyboard when the image they saw switched from one to the other.

They looked longest at the faces associated with negative gossip.

"The key finding is that if a face has been paired with negative gossip, you see it for longer compared to the house," Bliss-Moreau says.

Gossip and Vision

The results show that information gotten through gossip influences vision, according to Bliss-Moreau. "What we know about someone influences not only how we feel and think about them, but also whether or not we see them in the first place," she writes.

"If you hear negative gossip about people at one time, and then you encounter them at a later time, you are more likely to pay attention to their behavior," she says.

If you look at them for a longer time, and observe their behavior, she says, you can then figure out if you need to protect yourself from them or not.

Second Opinion

Linking gossip with our ability to process visual stimuli is a creative research approach, says Moshe Bar, PhD, director of the Harvard Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.

He reviewed the study findings for WebMD but was not involved in the study.

The study adds to what experts already know about our brain being an ''association machine," he says.

"First, it shows that quick exposure to a complex piece of information [gossip] is sufficient to cause a strong association," Bar says. "We just hear something about someone and it is enough to substantially bias our impression about that someone."

The new research also shows that ''negative associations are strong enough to emerge from outside awareness to affect our thoughts and potentially actions."

Although knowing someone in a picture threw a chair at a classmate "does not pose an immediate threat to us, our brain still does not take chances [and] seems to consider this as worth heightened sensitivity," he tells WebMD.

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