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Why do women gossip? Study reveals dark, strategic reasons.

A new paper explores why women gossip about each other, and identifies some key factors that influence how women choose gossiping targets.


What purpose does gossip serve among women?

According to a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychologygossip can serve as a weapon that women use against each other in strategic competition over men. The broad finding in the paper was that women are more likely to gossip–as in share reputation-damaging information or withhold positive information–about women whom they perceive to be a threat, directly or indirectly, to their own romantic success. 

That might explain in part why middle schools are often incredibly cruel social environment for young girls, as a couple of personal excerpts from the paper suggest:

“When I was in junior high, there was this new girl that a bunch of guys liked. Two girls in the grade went around with a petition they made all the boys sign that said ‘I will never go out with the Megawhore.’” – Hope

 

seth-stephens-davidowitz-googles-search-data-reveals-the-truth-about-female-and-male-sexuality

“Brianna and Mackenzie gave [Jenny] a code name and started calling her Harriet the Hairy Whore. They told everyone Jenny was hooking up with the boys in the woods behind the soccer field…Brianna and Mackenzie started a club called Hate Harriet the Whore Incorporated. They got every girl to join except two who didn't care.”

The researchers conducted five studies to examine the factors that influence whether a woman chooses to harm another woman’s reputation.

The first four studies asked female participants to complete an online survey. In the first study, participants were presented with a photo of an attractive woman and were asked to imagine that she had just joined their social group.

Half of the participants were asked to take the hypothetical situation a step further by imagining that the attractive woman had been flirting with their boyfriends.

Participants were then given positive and negative personal information about the attractive woman, like “she sleeps around a lot” or “she donates to charity.” Then, the participants were asked to rate how likely they were to share each piece of information.

The results showed women were more likely to share negative information and withhold positive information in the hypothetical scenarios where the attractive woman had been flirting with their boyfriend. 

 

The results of the other surveys showed similar findings: participants were more likely to gossip about a woman when she was attractive or wore revealing clothing. In other words, the women, particularly those who measured as being highly competitive, gossiped when they perceived another woman to be a romantic threat. Interestingly, whether a participant happened to like explicitly like a woman seemed not to affect the probability that she would gossip about her.   

Unlike the first four studies, the fifth used face-to-face interactions instead of online surveys. The researchers wanted to test whether the level of sexual openness–demonstrated by wearing either sexy or conservative clothing–affected participants’ willingness to gossip about an attractive woman they interacted with in person.

They recruited 104 women for a laboratory study described as one about “how people work together in groups.” Each participant was joined by two other female “participants.” However, both of these women were actually “confederates” of the study.


One confederate was named Francesca. Each participant was instructed to work with Francesca on a puzzle while the third woman worked in another room. While working on the puzzle, Francesca would confess to each participant that she was hungover and had had sex with two men the previous night.

After a few minutes, the instructor would tell Francesca she was free to leave, and then tell the other confederate to enter the room and begin working with the participant on the puzzle. The confederate would eventually ask, “so how was working with the other girl?”

Consistent with the findings from the other studies, the researchers found that participants were more likely to share reputation-damaging information about Francesca when she wore a revealing outfit rather than a conservative one. In other words, women gossiped about Francesca when they perceived her to be an indirect romantic threat, considering that men to tend to be attracted to sexual openness as displayed through provocative clothing.

However, some women framed their gossip about Francesca in altruistic terms, saying things like “I’m worried about her.” It’s not clear whether these instances represented true concerns or attempts to make themselves appear not quite as gossipy.

The researchers suggested that in order to mitigate the suffering of girls like Hope and Jenny, we first need to understand the motivations behind gossiping.

“The theory and data presented here suggest that Hope and Jenny's bullies likely viewed their targets as threatening romantic rivals,” the paper concludes. “The pattern of these behaviors was not random, but straightforwardly followed a romantic competition framework. To the extent that reputation manipulation reflects a viable means for women to compete for romantic and social partners, then strategic reputation denigration should be pervasive. Shining a spotlight on this form of aggression is the first step towards reducing it.”

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What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

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Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
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A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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Mother bonobos, too, pressure their sons to have grandchildren

If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.

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Surprising Science
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