Evolutionary psychologist Frank T. McAndrew explains at The Conversation:
Let’s face it: gossips get a bad rap.
Smugly looking down from a moral high ground – and secure in the knowledge that we don’t share their character flaw – we often dismiss those who are obsessed with the doings of others as shallow.
Indeed, in its rawest form, gossip is a strategy used by individuals to further their own reputations and interests at the expense of others. Studies that I have conducted confirm that gossip can be used in cruel ways for selfish purposes.
…When disparaging gossip, we overlook the fact that it’s an essential part of what makes the social world tick; the nasty side of gossip overshadows the more benign ways in which it functions.
In fact, gossip can actually be thought of not as a character flaw, but as a highly evolved social skill. Those who can’t do it well often have difficulty maintaining relationships, and can find themselves on the outside looking in.
We are, in fact, “hardwired to gossip,” McAndrew continues:
Like it or not, we are the descendants of busybodies. Evolutionary psychologists believe that our preoccupation with the lives of others is a byproduct of a prehistoric brain.
According to scientists, because our prehistoric ancestors lived in relatively small groups, they knew one another intimately. In order to ward off enemies and survive in their harsh natural environment, our ancestors needed to cooperate with in-group members. But they also recognized that these same in-group members were their main competitors for mates and limited resources.
Living under such conditions, our ancestors faced a number of adaptive social problems: who’s reliable and trustworthy? Who’s a cheater? Who would make the best mate? How can friendships, alliances and family obligations be balanced?
In this sort of environment, an intense interest in the private dealings of other people would have certainly been handy – and strongly favored by natural selection. People who were the best at harnessing their social intelligence to interpret, predict – and influence – the behavior of others became more successful than those who were not.
The genes of those individuals were passed along from one generation to the next.
Yes, so the fact that you exist today, suggests that you had ancestors mumbling on to each other about the Kardashians of their day.
More on what fuels our thirst for gossip about celebrities at the link.