Boys gossip just as much as girls, study shows

May 8, 1995
Contact: umichnews@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR—Gossip. It’s the engine that keeps the world humming, in board rooms and locker rooms as well as beauty shops and kitchens. That’s the implication of a University of Michigan study of pre-teens, showing that boys gossip every bit as much as girls.

The study also found that pre-teens gossiped an average of 18 times an hour, with gossip taking up as much as 50 percent of their time. They were three times more likely to gossip about their own sex than the opposite sex, and they were just as likely to gossip about other people’s relationships as they were about their own.

” Girls and boys engaged in similar amounts of gossip,” report U-M psychologists Jeffrey G. Parker and Stephanie D. Teasley, who presented the study last month at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.

But Parker and Teasley did find some differences between what boys and girls tend to gossip about. Girls were more likely to talk about boys they ” liked” ” and the more popular the boys were, the more likely the girls were to talk about them. Even the most popular boys, on the other hand, rarely talked about girls they ” liked. ”

The U-M team also found that pairs of boys who were good friends gossiped less than pairs of boys who were not as close, while the closer two girls were, the more time they were likely to spend in gossip.

For the study, Parker and Teasley videotaped the conversations of 106 children, divided up into roughly equal male and female pairs. The children, all between the ages of 9 and 12, were attending a ” sleep away” summer camp and were randomly paired with a camper of the same sex with whom they shared a cabin. The researchers put each pair of kids into a private room with art materials and a large map of camp to decorate and complete, showing all the cabins and activity areas.

The researchers defined gossip as ” any evaluative talk about non-present others. ” Using their definition, saying something positive about another child’s character, skills or appearance (” She’s like a genius or something” ) was considered to be gossip. So were observations such as ” He’s Mike’s best friend” or ” Becky is her cousin” designed to identify actual or desired relationships (” He’s my boyfriend” ).

But the researchers also found plenty of examples of classic gossip, in which one person deftly or crudely cuts up another, defaming and spreading rumors about everything from the target’s character to physical appearance and behavior. Within this classic gossip category, children were most likely to malign others for being pushy or verbally aggressive (” He calls everybody names” ), selfish, unattractive (” His face is all, like, pocked” ).