110 Gossip & Popularity

Based on research by the American Psychological Association. Adapted by Juanita N Baker, Ph.D..

Do elementary school children use gossip differently from high schoolers?

Psychologists Cillessen and Mayeux followed 905 children from the ages of 10 to 14. Those who others rated as socially aggressive, for spreading gossip about peers, are more popular at the young end of the age range. However, heavy gossip backfires by the beginning stages of high school. Popular fifth-graders, who rated high in gossip and were well liked by their peers, became less popular and likable by ninth grade.  Popularity and likeability were negatively correlated with gossip.

Schoolyard gossiping waxes and wanes. The rumor mill seems to be most active in middle school, the peak years for adolescent relational aggression. For children and parents dealing with middle-school social issues, relief is just around the corner. By the start of high school, negative gossip turns kids off and loses its social power.

How best to handle gossip? In a study of middle-school gossiping and teen-initiated gossip, others responded encouragingly about 80 percent of the time, confirming and even elaborating on the information. Once that happened, other kids rarely disagreed. However, if someone countered the gossip right away, the others were more likely to dissent.

Immediately refute rumors and gossip to clear the social air.


Cillessen, A. H. N., & Mayeux, L. (2004). From censure to reinforcement: Developmental changes in the association between aggression and social status. Child Development, 75, 147-163.

Dingfelder, S. F. (2006, April). Whispers as weapons. APA Monitor on Psychology, 62-63.

Eder, D. (1991). The structure of gossip: Opportunities and constraints on collective expression among adolescents. American Sociological Review, 54(4),494-508.

Underwood, M. K. (2003). Social aggression among girls. New York: The Guilford Press.

For more details see:
American Psychological Association, March 29, 2006

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