Robin Dunbar, professor of Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford University, has recently stated at the Cheltenham Science Festival that rather than upright walking, emotional intelligence, or culture, gossiping is what makes people human.
While Anthropologists and Human Sciences professors have argued over what makes a human for centuries, this recent claim proposes that it is gossip which makes us human, as it allows people to pass on vital information about who to trust, and helps us bond with family and friends.
The longevity of our life is influenced by the size of our social networks. Maintaining our relationships with other people will therefore extend your lifespan, and the modalities of gossip ensure that relationships are maintained through regular and variable communication.
While gossip may have negative connotations for some, a recent study by Manchester University found that even as known gossips were not trusted, those who gossiped too little were similarly viewed with suspicion. Rather than being a damaging communication tool, when humans first evolved, gossip was integral to expanding social networks. Gossip allowed early humans to know who to trust and who not to trust, and with this knowledge, grow into larger and larger mobile units.
Archaeology and Anthropology applicants should consider how social knowledge contributed to the extinction of the Neanderthals, while Linguistics applicants should explore how gossip functions as a communication tool in today’s society in light of these studies.