The science of gossip (and why everyone does it)

(CNN)People feed off gossip. It's one reason why, in the 1960s, the National Enquirer swapped the gory, gruesome headlines they were known for with celebrity scoops and scandal. The switch gave the tabloid access to supermarket checkout lines and the "enquiring minds" in them.

But it's not just tabloid readers who love to dish. Social scientists have found that everyone is hardwired to pay attention to gossip, and to participate in it. In fact, it's an evolutionary adaptation -- it's become human nature to spill the tea.
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"We're the descendants of people who were good at this," said Frank McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. "In prehistoric times, people who were fascinated by the lives of other people were more successful."
    McAndrew, an expert on human social behavior and gossip, explains that to thrive in the time of cavemen, we had to know what was happening with the people around us.
    "Who is sleeping with whom? Who has power? Who has access to resources? And if you weren't good at that, you weren't very successful," he said.
    Gossip generally has a negative connotation, especially when you think about hurtful rumors, or tabloids and a person's right to privacy.
    But in everyday life, researchers say, our chatter about other people tends to be relatively boring and neutral and serves its own unique purpose.

    52 minutes of gossip a day

    Most researchers define gossip as talking about someone who isn't present and sharing information that isn't widely known.