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Rosenbaum, J.B. Subrin, M. (1963). The Psychology of Gossip. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 11:817-831.

(1963). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11:817-831

The Psychology of Gossip

Jean B. Rosenbaum, M.D. and Mayer Subrin, M.D.


Gossip, the telling or repetition of tales about another, has been investigated psychologically using philological, anthropological, literary, and clinical material as our data. We view gossip as a complex social-psychological phenomenon arising from unresolved intrafamilial and intrapsychic conflict, i.e., from sibling rivalry and the oedipal relationship. The key ego processes involved are: the evocation of curiosity and the formation of a transient unstable identification accompanied by a feeling of intimacy. Gossip functions primarily in the service of discharge of the drives (frequently the aggressive) and the mastery of anxiety. It can facilitate group formation, and communicate information about social reality which cannot be transmitted through official channels. The ego mechanisms of identification, projection, and introjection are involved. Partial suspension of reality testing and a breakdown of reaction formations are necessary to accommodate the distortions, often wild distortions, expressed in the content of gossip. These distortions are due to the pressure of unconscious fantasy, which also plays a role in the evocation of curiosity and often forms the basis for the transient identification found in this triangular social relationship.

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