People stare for longer at others with bad reputations

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London: Beware the next time you find your office colleagues giving you a lingering glance, for a new study says that it could mean that you are the victim of malicious gossip being talked about you.

Researchers at Northeastern University have carried out the study and found that people unconsciously pay more attention to the faces of others who they have heard spoken of in negative terms, The Daily Telegraph reported.

In fact, the reason stems from evolution when it was useful to know who to avoid and to keep an eye on them. It allowed humans to live in groups and to learn from others and not just from direct experience, say the researchers. For their study, the researchers asked people to look at pictures of faces made to look as neutral as possible, some of which had been linked to negative gossip, some to positive and some to neutral.

The negative gossip included: They “threw a chair at his classmate”, the positive: “helped an elderly woman with her groceries” and neutral: “passed a man on the street”. The researchers, found that people’s eyes subconsciously lingered over the face connected with negative gossip.

“As a type of instructed learning, gossip is a way to learn socially relevant information about other people’s character or personality without having to directly experience their triumphs and misadventures.

“Whether delicious or destructive, gossip is functional. It provides human beings with information about others in the absence of direct experience, allowing us to live in very large groups.

“It is believed that gossip was important for social cohesion during the course of human evolution,” said the researchers. In fact, in their study, the researchers first showed the volunteers pictures of faces while describing negative, neutral or positive things the person in the picture had supposedly done. Then the subjects were presented with two faces or  neutral images such as a house.

The results showed that the volunteers registered the faces associated with negative gossip for the longest period of time, compared to images either neutral or positive. “Faces previously paired with descriptions of negative social behaviours were prioritised,” said the researchers whose study has been published in the Science journal.

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