Developmental and Gender Differences in Preadolescents' Judgments of the Veracity of Gossip

Hypothetical vignettes were used to examine 384 preadolescents' understanding of gossip in varying circumstances. Children correctly labeled talk about nonpresent others as gossip and considered it inappropriate. Skepticism was higher for gossip than for firsthand information and was greatest in the presence of cues suggesting that speakers were unreliable or harbored ulterior motives. Surprisingly, skepticism of gossip decreased with age. Attributions for speakers' behavior were sensitive to subtle contextual cues, and in the absence of clear motives, children, particularly girls, were likely to assume that gossipers spread false information out of jealousy. Overall, preadolescents appear to have a relatively mature understanding of the limitations of gossip, treat gossip with skepticism, and judge harshly gossipers who spread false gossip.