chatty talk about the details of personal matters and relationships, the sharing of secrets – more or less what we currently mean by gossip.

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Whatever its moral status, there is certainly some evidence to suggest that gossip is a deep-seated human instinct: evolutionary psychologists have compared the evolution of gossip in humans with the practice of 'social grooming' among chimps – where the animals spend hours grooming each other's fur, even when they are perfectly clean, as a form of social bonding.

This would indicate that gossip, far from being a trivial pastime, actually performs a vital and socially therapeutic function.

The important point about evaluation is that gossip generally involves more than the sharing of information about people's lives and relationships: it usually includes the expression of opinions or feelings about this information.

The opinions or feelings may be implied, rather than directly stated, or conveyed more subtly in the tone of voice, but we rarely share details about 'who is doing what with whom' without providing some indication of our views on the matter.

We have also drawn on material from SIRC's ongoing 'social intelligence' monitoring of sociocultural trends and patterns, including data from observation fieldwork and interviews.

Using international database and library searches, SIRC collated and reviewed all of the most recent academic research papers, books and journal articles on the subject of gossip.Has the mobile phone become the contemporary equivalent of the garden fence, for people with more fast-paced lifestyles and fragmented communities? What does gossip mean to the new 'mobile generation'?What are the social and psychological effects of this new gossip medium?Mobiles are a 'social lifeline' in a fragmented and isolating world.The subject of gossip is increasingly attracting the attention of researchers in social psychology, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, sociolinguistics and social history.BT Cellnet commissioned the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) to conduct the first scientific study of 'mobile gossip'.