Gossip in evolutionary perspective
Conversation is a uniquely human phenomenon. Analyses of freely forming conversations indicate that approximately two thirds of conversation time is devoted to social topics, most of which can be given the generic label gossip. This article first explores the origins of gossip as a mechanism for bonding social groups, tracing these origins back to social grooming among primates. It then asks why social gossip in this sense should form so important a component of human interaction and presents evidence to suggest that, aside from servicing social networks, a key function may be related explicitly to controlling free riders. Finally, the author reviews briefly the role of social cognition in facilitating conversations of this kind.