London: A bit of gossip could do you a world of good, easing stress and anxiety, besides boosting positive hormones.

A friend's marriage on the verge of being wrecked, your neighbour's rowdy teens, and a colleague's affair - all are fair game.

And, according to a new survey by a cosmetic company, 85 percent of women particularly relish hearing juicy tidbits, and one in 10 finds it hard to keep a secret.

Which makes it all the more reassuring to know that, rather than mindless bad-mouthing, gossip can be a healthy activity, providing social cohesion and enhancing feelings of well-being, a daily reports.

"Gossiping boosts levels of positive hormones like serotonin, reducing stress and anxiety," says psychologist Colin Gill.

"This is because when we gossip, we're taking an interest in what other people have to say and vice versa, and bonding with them makes us feel happier, releasing those feel-good chemicals," he adds.

Comparing ourselves favourably with the people we're talking about - known as "peer-referencing" - has a similar effect.

"Gossiping often involves a lot of laughter, which boosts all the 'happy' chemicals in our brain, and even gives us a little bit of a muscle work-out, too," says Gill.

In evolutionary terms, gossip enables us to gather useful information about people's characters and behaviour, according to Harvard University researchers.

This helps us protect ourselves from "liars and cheats". It enables us to live in big groups and is, in a suitably apt analogy, the human equivalent of apes picking fleas off each other.