Advertisement

Sex Roles

, Volume 56, Issue 11–12, pp 781–791 | Cite as

Let’s Talk About Sex: A Study on the Recall of Gossip About Potential Mates and Sexual Rivals

  • Charlotte J. S. De Backer
  • Mark Nelissen
  • Maryanne L. Fisher
Original Article

Abstract

Although there is an abundance of gossip research, little is known about the impact of individuals’ characteristics and their ability to recall gossip’s content. We concentrated on gossip related to mating reputation, and investigated the effects of individuals’ sex and relationship status when they are the subjects and receivers of such gossip. We presented 84 students with gossip-like stories, manipulated for content, and then provided a surprise recall test. We found that cues of attractiveness were recalled more for female characters, whereas cues of wealth status were recalled more for male characters. Gender differences in participants’ recall occurred for gossip about same-sex people who may represent rivals, but not for gossip about other-sex people who may represent potential mates. The relationship status of the subjects and receivers did not affect the recall rates. We discuss these findings within the conceptual framework offered by evolutionary psychology.

Keywords

Gossip Human mate choice Attractiveness Wealth status 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This study was supported by grants awarded to Charlotte De Backer from the Fund for Scientific Research Flanders and the Belgian American Educational Foundation. We are grateful for their support. We thank Patrick Vyncke, Johan Braeckman and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of this work.

References

  1. Arno, A. (1980). Fijian gossip as adjudication: A communicative model of informal social control. Journal of Anthropological Research, 36, 343–360.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. New York: General Learning Press.Google Scholar
  3. Baumeister, R. F., Zhang, L., & Vohs, K. D. (2004). Gossip as cultural learning. Review of General Psychology, 8, 111–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bromley, D. B. (1993). Reputation, image, and impression management. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  5. Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.Google Scholar
  6. Buss, D. M. (1994). The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  7. Buss, D. M. (1999). Evolutionary psychology: The new science of the mind. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  8. Buss, D. M. (2000). The dangerous passion: Why jealousy is as necessary as love and sex. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  9. Buss, D. M., & Dedden, L. A. (1990). Derogation of competitors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 395–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: An evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100, 204–232.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). From vigilance to violence: Mate retention tactics in married couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 346–361.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campbell, A. (1999). Staying alive: Evolution, culture, and women’s intrasexual aggression. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 22, 203–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Campbell, A. (2004). Female competition: Causes, constraints, content, and contexts. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 6–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carroll, J. (1999). The deep structure of literary representations. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 159–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carroll, J. (2002). Adaptationist literary study: An emerging research program. Style, 36, 596–617.Google Scholar
  16. Darwin, C. (1859/1998). The origin of species. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. De Backer, C. J. S., & Gurven, M. (2006). Whispering down the lane: The economics of strategy learning information transfer. Adaptive Behavior, 14, 249–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fisher, M. (2004). Female intrasexual competition decreases female facial attractiveness. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B (Supplemental), 271, 283–285.Google Scholar
  19. Foster, E. K. (2004). Research on gossip: Taxonomy, methods, and future directions. Review of General Psychology, 8, 78–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gangestad, S. W., Thornhill, R., & Garver, C. E. (2002). Changes in women’s sexual interests and their partner’s mate-retention tactics across the menstrual cycle: Evidence for shifting conflicts of interest. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 269, 975–982.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grammer, K., Jutte, A., & Fischmann, B. (1997). Der kampf der geschlechter und der krieg der signale [The fight of the sexes and the war of the signals]. In B. Kanitscheider (Ed.), Liebe, Lust und Leidenschaft. Sexualitat im Spiegel der Wissenschaft [Love, desire and passion. Sexuality in the mirror of science] (pp. 91–120). Stuttgart: Hirzel.Google Scholar
  22. Hess, N., & Hagen, E. (2002). Informational warfare, Cogprints. Retrieved from http://cogprints.org/2112/.
  23. Hess, N. H., & Hagen, E. H. (2006a). Sex differences in informational aggression: Psychological evidence from young adults. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27, 231–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hess, N. H., & Hagen, E. H. (2006b). Psychological adaptations for assessing gossip believability. Human Nature, 17, 337–354.Google Scholar
  25. Levin, J., & Arluke, A. (1985). An exploratory analysis of sex differences in gossip. Sex Roles, 12, 281–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Levin, J., & Kimmel, A. (1977). Gossip columns: Media small talk. Journal of Communication, 27, 169–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Li, N. P., Bailey, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., & Linsenmeier, J. A. W. (2002). The necessities and luxuries of mate preferences: Testing the tradeoffs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 947–955.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Li, N. P., & Kenrick, D. T. (2006). Sex similarities and differences in preferences for short-term mates: What, whether, and why. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 468–489.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Miller, L., & Fishkin, S. (1997). On the dynamics of human bonding and reproductive success. In J. Simpson & D. Kenrick (Eds.), Evolutionary social psychology (pp. 197–235). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  30. Pinker, S. (1995). The language instinct. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  31. Power, C. (1998). Old wives’ tales: The gossip hypothesis and the reliability of cheap signals. In J. R. Hurford, M. Studdert-Kennedy, & C. Knight (Eds.), Approaches to the evolution of language (pp. 111–129). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Scalise-Sugiyama, M. (1996). On the origins of narrative: Storyteller bias as a fitness-enhancing strategy. Human Nature, 7, 403–425.Google Scholar
  33. Scalise-Sugiyama, M. (2001). Food, foragers, and folklore: The role of narrative in human subsistence. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22, 221–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schiefele, U., & Krapp, A. (1996). Topic interest and free recall of expository text. Learning and Individual Differences, 8, 141–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schmitt, D. P., Alcalay, L., Allik, J., Ault, L., Austers, I., Bennett, K. L., et al. (2004). Patterns and universals of mate poaching across 53 nations: The effect of sex, culture, and personality on romantically attracting another person’s partner. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 560–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (1996). Strategic self-promotion and competitor derogation: Sex and context effects on the perceived effectiveness of mate attraction tactics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1185–1204.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Human mate poaching: Tactics and temptations for infiltrating existing mateships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 894–917.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schmitt, D. P., Shackelford, T. K., & Buss, D. M. (2001). Are men really more ‘oriented’ toward short-term mating than women? A critical review of theory and research. Psychology. Evolution and Gender, 3, 211–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Shackelford, T. K., & Larsen, R. J. (1999). Facial attractiveness and physical health. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 71–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Spiegel, M. R. (1972). Theory and problems of statistics. Singapore: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  41. Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Trivers, R. L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man: 1871–1971 (pp. 136–179). Chicago: Aldine.Google Scholar
  43. Wert, S. R., & Salovey, P. (2004). Introduction to the special issue on gossip. Review of General Psychology, 8, 76–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Williams, G. (1966). Adaptation and natural selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charlotte J. S. De Backer
    • 1
  • Mark Nelissen
    • 2
  • Maryanne L. Fisher
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Media and CommunicationUniversity of LeicesterLeicesterUK
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpBelgium
  3. 3.Department of PsychologySt. Mary’s UniversityHalifaxCanada

Personalised recommendations