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The Science Behind Why We Gossip

An illustration of several people, each one passing some juicy gossip on to the next one.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby

There are some vibes that are so pungent and so overwhelming that they are difficult to shake. Think about the bad vibe at a hospital, or the spooky vibe of a cemetery at night. The vibe at axe throwing places is more positive than those, but it is just as unsettling.

I have been axe throwing one time during the holidays with my family, and though we had a pretty good time, the atmosphere of the place was very upsetting. The lights were way too high and way too blue-tinted. The music was so loud. The axes are very sharp and the oversight is extremely minimal. Before you figure out how to throw the axe, it just hits the target and ricochets in an unpredictable direction very rapidly. It is a wonder to me that more people do not die there.

Today, we confront a clash of vibes. And what could be more chaotic and deranged than just one axe-throwing place? What about a whole strip mall with axe throwing, a rage room, and an escape room? Is this all too much? No, it is perfect. And to top it all off, there is a power struggle brewing among this chain of stores!

In this week’s episode, Dr. Eshin Jolly joined me to discuss whether or not this strip mall is cursed, and how it can become uncursed. Dr. Jolly is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Computational Social Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Dartmouth College, where he also completed his PhD. His research focuses on how humans form psychological impressions and construct neural representations of other people, and ultimately how these representations change as they are transmitted between individuals.

Eshin and I discussed how his research shows that the more we gossip, the more our opinions of others merge with those of the people we share gossip. We discussed why he studies gossip in the first place, and whether he considers himself a gossip.

Then we dove into the messy, ridiculous story of a strip mall filled with larger-than-life characters who find themselves suddenly confronting corporate overstep. There are axes and handcuffs and a man named Nose Ring Nicholas!

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(The transcript for this week’s episode can be found here.)

And if you do have some good goss that you want us to hear, the email for that is normalgossip@defector.com, or phone it in to 2-6-7-9-GOSSIP.