“Your Brain Is Built to Make You Good at Gossip”

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The Story

“Your Brain Is Built to Make You Good at Gossip”
by Deepa Padmanaban
The Cut, March 28, 2017

The Pitch

The neural architecture of Gossip

Gossip is the foundation of human survival.

In the book, ‘Sapiens- A Brief History of Humankind’, the author Yuval Noah Harari writes that, “Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction. It is not enough for individual (early) men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bisons. It’s much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest and who is a cheat.”

This gossip about individuals helped ancient Sapiens not only to survive, but also to expand their tribes and develop sophisticated types of co-operation. But how do we humans manage to store and retrieve social knowledge that we have obtained and collected of several individuals?

New research shows that social knowledge of a particular individual is first sent to the Anterior Temporal Lobe(ATL) region of the brain, which acts as a sort of Person Identity Node (PIN). Different aspects of social knowledge, such as name, status and trait of an individual, are then each stored in discrete nodes of the ATL. The ATL serves as a neural switchboard, when cued appropriately, this information is retrieved through a hub-and –spoke mechanism.

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