Celebrity gossip is a strange phenomenon. No matter how large our brains might be, we all fall into the trap. So why is it so effective? A recent study endeavoured to find out.
It’s your day off and you’re spending it exactly where you wanted to: on the couch.
Television is at its finest, airing repeats of Ellen in the mid-afternoon, when suddenly a news flash comes on.
Except, it’s not a news flash, it’s a promo for the upcoming episode of the network’s preferred Hollywood insider, telling you they’ve got a big scoop on who’s dating who.
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) September 28, 2017
“I don’t care,” you say to yourself. Yet your eyes remain transfixed.
You’re absorbing the information, your brain fully engaged. You do care.
But why? What is it about this mindless gossip that you find interesting?
As it turns out, hearing gossip actually has an effect on our emotions.
In a study on how the brain processes gossip – both about celebrities and about individuals and their friends – participants were asked to rate their online emotional states.
Their ratings suggested that people were happier to hear positive gossip, and “more annoyed” when they heard negative gossip about themselves than about their friends or celebrities.
Using MRI scanning, researchers were also able to see the physiological effects of hearing gossip.
This showed that the same dissociated neural networks were involved in processing positive gossip about oneself and negative gossip about celebrities.
While participants may have said they were not happy to hear negative gossip about celebrities, the researchers describe “significantly enhanced neural activity” in the reward system on listening, suggesting they in fact were amused.
So why the alleged disapproval?
By way of enhanced functional connectivity, the prefrontal executive control network regulates the reward system by giving explicit pleasure ratings according to social norm compliance, rather than natural emotions.
Meaning that even our feelings conform to social standards.
So the next time you catch yourself locked into Mario Lopez’s gaze, remember: you like it a lot more than you think you do.