Gossip as a resource: How and why power relationships shape gossip behavior

Elena Martinescu*, Onne Janssen, Bernard A. Nijstad

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Gossip entails spreading evaluative information about people who are not present. From a social exchange perspective, we examined how hierarchical power relationships shape individuals’ gossip motives and behavior. Results of a laboratory experiment (Study 1) partially supported our prediction that gossip is less likely and elaborate in downward compared to upward and lateral interactions. We further predicted that people gossip laterally to seek information and social support, and upwards to exert influence. A scenario (Study 2) and critical incident study (Study 3) with working populations showed that lateral gossip was more functional for seeking information and expressive social support, whereas upward gossip (Study 2) and upward and lateral gossip (Study 3) were more functional for exerting informal influence and for seeking instrumental support. These results confirm our notion that gossip is functional behavior that enables individuals in hierarchical power relationships to strategically exchange different social resources (i.e., information, influence, support).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-102
Number of pages14
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019
Externally publishedYes


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