How Gossip Works

on Saturday, March 19, 2011

Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist and evolutionary biologist, specializing in primate behavior, monitored conversations in a university dining hall, scoring the topic of conversation at 30-second intervals. Social relationships and personal experiences accounted for about 70 per cent of conversation time. About half of this was devoted to he relationships or experiences of people not present.

Males, however, tended to talk more about their own relationships and experiences and females tended to talk most about other people’s. This is interesting because it can be interpreted as suggesting that language evolved in the context of social bonding between females. Most anthropologists have assumed that it evolved in the context of male-male relationships, during hunting for example. The suggestion that female-female bonding, based on knowledge of the relationships of other individuals, was more important fits much better with views about the structure of nonhuman primate societies where relationships between females are all- important.