Children's understanding of gossip as it relates to reputation
Hill, Valerie A.
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Gossip can affect an individual’s reputation. Negative gossip can be a threat to an individual’s reputation, whereas positive gossip can enhance it. Individuals may alter their opinions about someone based on what they have heard. Therefore, it is important to determine when children might begin to understand that gossip can influence an individual’s reputation among the peer group. The main goal of this study was to assess children’s understanding of the impact of gossip on reputation. More specifically, this study examined children's understanding that people with different initial reputations may be impacted differently by gossip. Seventy-three second-grade and 72 sixth-grade children participated. Each child was read a prosocial, antisocial, or low-social target character description followed by a positive, negative, and neutral event or gossip scenario. Then, the child was asked questions regarding how much the gossip spread among the peer group and the believability of the gossip. In addition, the child was asked questions regarding characteristics of the target characters and the target characters’ likeability among the peer group. Both second and sixth graders recognized that gossip can influence a child’s likeability among the peer group. Positive and neutral gossip had a positive impact on likeability, whereas negative gossip had a negative impact on likeability. Children also recognized that gossip valence had an impact on the spreading of information, especially for the antisocial character. Children responded that negative gossip would spread among the peer group more for an antisocial peer. Children think that reputation appears to be influenced not only by an individual child’s behavior but also by indirect information such as gossip. This is particularly true for antisocial children. Children believe that the saliency of antisocial peers’ behavior seems to maintain their status with respect to their reputation but not their likeability among the peer group. It may be that positive gossip can enhance their likeability among the peer group, but it may take something more than this indirect source to change their reputation among the peer group.