The Gossip and Grooming Hypothesis
Gossip, according to Robin Dunbar, does for group-living humans what manual grooming does for other primates — it allows individuals to service their relationships and so maintain their alliances on the basis of the principle, if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. As humans began living in larger and larger social groups, the task of manually grooming all one's friends and acquaintances became so time-consuming as to be unaffordable. In response to this problem, humans invented 'a cheap and ultra-efficient form of grooming' — vocal grooming. To keep your allies happy, you now needed only to 'groom' them with low-cost vocal sounds, servicing multiple allies simultaneously while keeping both hands free for other tasks. Vocal grooming then evolved gradually into vocal language — initially in the form of 'gossip'.
Critics of this theory point out that the very efficiency of 'vocal grooming' — the fact that words are so cheap — would have undermined its capacity to signal commitment of the kind conveyed by time-consuming and costly manual grooming. A further criticism is that the theory does nothing to explain the crucial transition from vocal grooming — the production of pleasing but meaningless sounds — to the cognitive complexities of syntactical speech.
Famous quotes containing the words hypothesis, gossip and/or grooming:
“The hypothesis I wish to advance is that ... the language of morality is in ... grave disorder.... What we possess, if this is true, are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts of which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived. We possess indeed simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions. But we havevery largely if not entirelylost our comprehension, both theoretical and practical, of morality.”
—Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre (b. 1929)
“The monster of advertisement ... is a sort of octopus with innumerable tentacles. It throws out to right and left, in front and behind, its clammy arms, and gathers in, through its thousand little suckers, all the gossip and slander and praise afloat, to spit out again at the public.”
—Sarah Bernhardt (18441923)
“Cats are the ultimate narcissists. You can tell this because of all the time they spend on personal grooming. Dogs arent like this. A dogs idea of personal grooming is to roll in a dead fish. Dogs spend their time thinking about doing good deeds for their masters, or sleeping.”
—James Gorman (b. 1949)