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An exploration of gossip as an intrasexual competition strategy

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posted on 2022-03-28, 20:39 authored by Katelin Sutton
The research presented in this dissertation investigated whether gossip is useful as a strategy for intrasexual competition in both traditional and non-traditional mate attraction settings. The variables that influence engagement in, and the success of, reputation-based gossip were explored from the perspective of all three members of the mate competition triad; the individual, the romantic target, and the romantic competitor. Chapter 1 provides aliterature review of gossip research, particularly focusing on the role of gossip in mate competition. The historical context of gossip is initially provided, leading to a discussion of gossip as a strategy for intrasexual competition. The variables that influence reputation-based gossip are discussed and directions for future research outlined. Chapter 2 presents a study that investigated the demographic variables influencing a woman’s tendency to gossip. The results showed that age, relationship status, and parental status all influence gossip tendencies and gossip content. In line with predictions from evolutionary psychology, parental status was found to be the best predictor of both a woman’s overall tendency to gossip in addition to her tendency to focus on physical appearance and social information gossip content. Chapter 3 presents two studies that explored willingness to gossip in a mate poaching context. Crossculturally, men and women were found to be willing to share derogatory gossip about a competitor in order to poach the competitor’s partner. However, as the consequences for sharing this gossip increased, men became more willing to gossip than women and participants from collectivistic cultures became more willing to gossip than participants from individualistic cultures. The study detailed in Chapter 4 investigated reputation-based gossip from the perspective of the target utilising a qualitative methodology. In this study, the target was asked to describe the impact that hearing negative gossip about their partner’s sexual reputation would have on their perceptions of their partner and their relationship. Hearing this gossip was found to lead to a variety of negative relational consequences for the target, ranging from expressions of negative affect and distributive communication, to relationship dissolution. Despite this, targets generally reported being unwilling to retaliate aggressively against the gossiper, preferring to focus their attentions on their partners and their relationships. Chapter 5 presents a two-part study that explored the intrasexual and intersexual retention tactics the derogated competitor engages in as a result of hearing derogatory gossip about their reputation. The results of this study indicated that men and women were generally unwilling to retaliate aggressively against the gossiper, with social norms thought to constrain engagement in aggressive behaviour. Rather, derogated individuals reported they would preferentially focus their attentions on their romantic partners through engagement in intersexual retention tactics. Chapter 6 is a summation providing an overview and analysis of the empirical findings obtained throughout the studies conducted for this dissertation. Limitations of the current research are discussed, as are avenues for future research, before final conclusions conferred. The findings from this dissertation suggest that gossip is a low-risk intrasexual competition strategy, particularly effective when used strategically in mate poaching contexts.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. A review of reputation-based gossip -- Chapter 2. Variables influencing reputation-based gossip -- Chapter 3. The role of gossip in mate poaching -- Chapter 4. Consequences of hearing gossip about one's partner -- Chapter 5. Gossip from the perspective of the derogated -- Chapter 6. General discussion.


A thesis for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Psychology Bibliography: pages 386-464

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Megan Oaten

Additional Supervisor 1

Trevor Case


Copyright Katelin Sutton 2014. Copyright disclaimer:




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