How does trust affect rumor propagation? How may harmful rumors be prevented and neutralized? This book will be of special interest to social psychologists, organizational psychologists, and researchers in organizational communication, organizational behavior, and human resource administration. It will also appeal to public relations personnel and managers who regularly encounter rumors. In addition, it will be a valuable asset to persons seeking to understand conflict in political contexts.
It forms, maintains, enforces, or disseminates group norms. Although it may indeed have a considered objective trying to persuade, affiliate, exclude , it is packaged in tones of relative disinterest. In a similar way, gossip is talk about matters that are typically considered not that urgent or weighty. Chat about office romances, classmate peccadilloes, and family members' personality traits constitutes gossip if offered without apparent serious intent. The same topics, explored by a social psychologist in a conference paper, would not be gossip because their function would be more central to the purpose of the exchange.
Again, gossip and gossiping perform central and significant functions in social life, but gossip content is typically considered less central, relevant, or important by participants. In addition, gossip is evaluative talksometimes positive and sometimes negative Foster, although it is predominantly. Tales about Joe's behavior at the office Christmas party make a statement that such behavior is laudable or laughable.
Third, gossip is evaluative talk about the private and personal life of an individual rather than about a group or event Foster, However, rumor and gossip are not equivalent concepts; they differ in function and content. Rumor's function is to make sense of an ambiguous situation or to help people adapt to known or potential threats; gossip serves social network formation and maintenance.
Put another way, rumor is intended as a hypothesis to help make sense of an unclear situation whereas gossip entertains, bonds, and normatively influences group members. First, rumor is not based on solid evidence it is unverified , whereas gossip may or may not be firmly substantiated. Second, rumor is typically about a topic of importance or significance to its participants, whereas gossip is perceived in a less urgent fashion. As Sabini and Silver put it, "Calling a story gossip and calling it rumor are both dismissive, but they dismiss in different ways.
Third, rumor may or may not be about the private lives of individuals, but gossip is always about this topic. Ambrosini stated it this way:" Gossip focuses on the private affairs of individuals; rumor focuses on the larger sphere of human. Although rumor and gossip differ, there exist "nebulous forms" that are hard to classify Rosnow, , p. For example, hearsay that the boss is embezzling funds to pay for his sizable gambling debts is unverified, is instrumentally relevant, and arises in a situation of potential threat: Embezzlement may affect company livelihood.
However, such hearsay is also evaluative idle talk that might be spread by someone attempting to satisfy status or ego needs in the context of a social hierarchy.
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For example, coworkers may help one another understand the boss's motivation: "She has an absurd need for power; approach her only with requests that will make her look good to her superiors. The term urban legend is a misnomerurban legends often involve any location, not just cities; they are more properly termed modern or contemporary legends P. Mullen, The terms urban, modern, and contemporary legends are therefore used interchangeably in this discussion. They have a setting, a plot, a climax, and an epilogue.
For example, tourists traveling in a van in Australia hit a kangaroo and apparently killed it. They got out of the van and dressed it up in one of the tourist's jacket and took a photograph to show back homewhat a laugh it would bring! He awoke and hopped awayjacket which contained a wallet and a passport and all! Moral of the story: Be kind to animals adapted from a version circulating on the Internet in , as quoted in Mikkelson, a. Contemporary legends are appropriate for situations in which entertaining stories are recounted, such as in casual conversation, Internet chat episodes, and social gatherings.
They serve important functions: to amuse and to propagate moral values within a culture. First they entertain. Modern urban legends are like tall tales in their exaggeratedness Bennett, They are interesting to listen to. Consider the story of the hitchhiker who vanished Brunvand, : Driving on a country road, a father and daughter picked up a young girl hitchhiking.
She got into the backseat and told them that she lived in a house 5 miles farther on. When they arrived, the girl had vanished! Knocking on the door of the house, they discovered that a young girl, who looked like the person they had picked up, had disappeared several years ago and had last been seen hitchhiking on that very country road. And, that day was her birthday. Second, urban legends propagate mores and values. All good stories signify a theme or meaning; in other words, there is a moral to the story.
The tale entitled "The Hook" criticizes teenage promiscuity. In this urban legend, a teenage couple in a parked car in the dead of night stop necking after hearing scratching noises; after they arrive home, the prosthetic hook of an escaped mental patient is found hanging on the car door handle Brunvand, Modern legends are thus like fables that focus on "fears, warnings, threats, and promises" Bennett, , p.
The story of the traveler who is lured to his apartment by a seductive woman but wakes up to discover that his kidney has been removed as part of an illegal organ-selling operation is a morality tale about one-night stands Mikkelson, Like traditional legends, modern legends persist because they answer long-standing questions and make sense of the world; they symbolize underlying truths and values.
CONTENT As in the kangaroo tale, urban legend content is first of all a narrative tale, usually complete with setting, plot, climax, and denouement. Second, these stories are unusual, horrible, or funny. They are of "notable happenings of the kind that allege 'strange but true'" Fine, , p. It would be unusual, to say the least, for a Doberman to bite off and choke on the fingers of a burglar, but it could happen Brunvand, Third, contemporary legend content contains contemporary material as opposed to traditional themes and events.
The topics of the contemporary legend are "events that happened in contemporary society and depict persons, relations, organizations, and institutions, that are recognized by narrator and audience to characterize the modern world" Fine, , p. These topics include, for example, automobiles, hitchhikers, carcinogens, necking, photography, dating, and organ removal. In addition, both consist, at their core, of beliefs, statements, or verbal expressions P. Distortion has occurred in bothin the form of inclusion of concrete detailsso as to make a tale more plausible G.
However, rumors and urban legends differ in their primary contexts, function, and content, their typical structure, and the extent to which they migrate. First, although legends may, broadly speaking, help to make sense of the world P. Mullen, , they often do not pertain to a particular situation. For example, they are not often proposed during company downsizings because they are of limited value in ferreting out the facts and preparing for the future.
However, rumors are not set forth primarily to entertain and promote mores; rumors of low projected fourth-quarter corporate earnings are not amusing nor do they possess a moral adage. Thus, rumors tend to be about a current event or topic of discussion Rosnow, and how these events predict the future; legends typically consist of a storylike series of events that has already occurred. Second, rumor and contemporary legend tend to differ in structure; legends tend to be longer than rumors and to have narrative elements P.
Rumors are "short, nonnarrative expressions of belief" P. As previously noted, this distinction accrues from the differing primary functions of the two. Legends are for storytelling and amusement and therefore tend to contain a setting, plot, climax, and denouement. Rumors are for ferreting out the facts, making sense, and managing risk and thus the information tends to be received in shorter packets that are relevant to a particular situation.
The Real Scoop on Rumors and Gossip
A narrative cannot be presented because the sense making is contemporaneous rather than post hoc. For example, the K-mart snake rumor the false story about a woman bitten by a snake when trying on clothing at a K-martmigrated from geographic locale to locale and from K-mart to Wal-Mart.
In fact, legends have been proposed to be rumors that persisted over time, and rumors have arisen out of legends also; thus both "feed off one another" P. Put another way, "A legend may be regarded as a solidified rumor" D. Miller, , p. Legends, then, are rumors that, after some distortion, persist for generations G. These legends seem to touch down as rumors in a particular locale for a particular time, then disappear, only to reappear years later in another place and with the characters changed.
Empirical Evidence: Information Dimensions So far we have sought to define and distinguish rumor, gossip, and urban legend by exploring their contexts, functions, and contents. We have in mind methodological and practical reasons for this exploration; a sharpened conceptualization of rumor will lead to more valid investigations of rumor and more valid prescriptions for handling rumor. With these objectives and concerns in mind, we investigated the ques-. And if so, do they make the same distinctions that we do?
On the basis of the knowledge we discussed earlier in this chapter, we hypothesized that classic forms of rumor, news, gossip, and urban legend would be differentially regarded along six dimensions of information: evidentiary basis, importance, extent to which content is about individuals, extent to which content is slanderous, how entertaining the information is, and how useful the information is. In specific terms, rumor should be rated low on evidentiary basis and high on importance and usefulness. News ratings should mirror these elements except for evidentiary basis, which ought to be rated highly.
In contrast, gossip should be considered by participants to be low in importance and usefulness, and high in slanderous content about individuals and entertainment value. Finally, urban legends should be low in evidentiary basis, importance, and usefulness, but high in entertainment.
These hypotheses are summarized in Table 1. To explore these hypotheses, we generated the Information Dimensions Scale IDS to measure perceived dimensions of information. We presented prototypical examples of each information type to participants and they rated each on bipolar 9-point scales. We rated four information dimensions related to content: We measured evidentiary basis by rating the extent to which the information is "information that has been verified" versus "information that has not been verified," "information that you are absolutely [vs.
We measured content about individuals by rating the extent to which the information is about a person's private life, about individuals, and not. We measured slanderous content by rating the extent to which the information discredits someone, is slanderous, and is derogatory.
Participants rated one exemplar of rumor, gossip, news, or urban legend; we created two versions for each information type see Exhibit 1. Fifty-nine Rochester Institute of Technology undergraduates were asked to imagine that they were at work and heard the statement from a coworker;.
Gossip 2: "I heard that Sally is a wild and crazy kind of girl. Your supervisor has not heard anything about this but you have noticed that Sally is moderately attractive. News 1: "Our company must respond to a tough economy in order to survive. We will be downsizing the development department.
Your supervisor confirms this and you know that the economy has not been doing that well lately. News 2: "Jim Jones, head of development, will be promoted to senior vice president of consumer relations. Your supervisor confirms this and you know that he has had a long string of successes in the past 2 years. He thought, 'What a great photo opportunity! The animal stood about 6 feet tall and would really impress the pals back home. However, the kangaroo was not dead! It was only stunned and promptly hopped off into the distance complete with jacket, wallet, and passport.
The couple said they took Rosa with them to the restaurant and asked a waiter to give her something to eat. The waiter had trouble understanding the couple but eventually picked up the dog and carried her to the kitchen where they thought she would be fed. Eventually the waiter returned carrying a dish.
When the couple removed the silver lid they found Rosa. Urban Legend 1 is adapted from a version circulating on the Internet in , as quoted in Mikkelson a ; Urban Legend 2 is from a Reuters news story that circulated in August , as quoted in Brunvand , p. Participants then rated the statement on evidentiary basis, importance, content about individuals, and slanderous content. Across the two versions, information dimension means for each type of statement were similar and were therefore collapsed.
Consistent with our hypotheses, rumor and news differed only with regard to evidentiary basis, and were both rated as important, not about individuals, and not slanderous. Rumor and gossip, however, differed on every dimension except evidentiary basis both were low. Gossip exemplars were rated as not important, about individuals, and slanderous. In addition, urban legend exemplars were rated low on evidentiary basis and importance. Therefore, our exemplars of rumor, gossip, news, and urban legend were meaningfully distinguished by content along hypothesized information dimensions.
Participants also rated functional information dimensions: the extent to which the information is entertaining and useful. The primary function of rumor and news is to make sense of an ambiguous or threatening situation. Rumor and news should therefore be useful information that may or may not be entertaining. Such information would be more likely to be discussed in a serious conversation with a boss or coworkers than at a lighthearted party.
In contrast, gossip is about social-network configuration, entertainment, and communicating social norms. In a similar way, urban legends are stories told for entertainment and to convey mores. Gossip and urban legends should therefore be rated high on entertainment and low on usefulness. Gossip would be more likely to be discussed at a lighthearted party than in a serious conversation with one's boss. To measure these information dimensions, we constructed an additional set of bipolar IDS items. We measured entertaining by rating the extent to which the statement was entertaining, amusing, and enjoyable; we measured useful by rating the extent to which the statement was "useful to you," beneficial to know, and helpful to know.
A second set of Rochester Institute of Technology undergraduate participants rated one of the same eight statements on the extent to which the statement was entertaining and useful. Standardized alpha coefficients were as follows: evidentiary basis,. Mean information dimension ratings for exemplars of rumor, gossip, news, and urban legend: evidentiary basis, importance, about individuals, and slanderous. Consistent with our hypotheses, rumor and news exemplars served similar functions: Both were rated as highly useful and low on entertainment.
However, gossip and urban legend were entertaining but not very useful. Thus, rumor differed from gossip and urban legend on these dimensions. Our exemplars of rumor, gossip, news, and urban legend were meaningfully distinguished by function along hypothesized information dimensions. Mean information dimension ratings for exemplars of rumor, gossip, news, and urban legend: entertaining and useful. Transmission likelihood means for rumor, gossip, and news exemplars also reflected hypothesized functions. Figure 1. Rumor and news transmission likelihoods did not differ across situation, and both were more likely to be transmitted in a serious conversation with the boss or to coworkers within 1 hour than to friends having a good time at a party.
These results indicate a sensemaking function. In contrast, gossip and urban legend were much more likely to be shared with coworkers and within 1 hour of hearing it than in a serious conversation with the boss, which indicates the entertainment function. Once again, participants meaningfully distinguished by function between exemplars of rumor, gossip, news, and urban legend.
Mean likelihood of transmitting rumor, gossip, news, and urban legend in different settings. Scale anchored at 1 very unlikely to 9 very likely. Conclusions, Implications, and Future Research In this chapter we have defined rumor as unverified and instrumentally relevant information statements in circulation that arise in contexts of ambiguity, danger, or potential threat and that function to help people make sense and manage risk.
We differentiated rumor from gossip social chat that entertains and serves valuable social network functions and urban legend narrative that entertains and reinforces val-. We have taken a position that these genres of communication, although sharing some similarities, exhibit meaningful distinctions. For each form of communication, we explored context, function, and content differences. In addition, we created IDSs to investigate perceptions of exemplars of rumor, gossip, news, and urban legend. Our exemplars of these information types were appropriately distinguished: We observed both content and functional differences.
What are the implications of the distinctions between rumor, gossip, and urban legend? First, it is clear that in this volume we are discussing rumors. Although the dynamics discussed in this book may apply to gossip and urban legend, they are primarily intended for rumor. Second, for rumor researchers, providing rumor exemplars as in Exhibit 1. This point is important especially for rumor and gossip. In unpublished data, we have uniformly found that people do not distinguish between the terms rumor and gossip. That is, they rate them both as they would rate gossip: low in importance, slanderous, about individuals, and so on.
The rumor researcher cannot simply request participants to recall rumors; rather, rumors must be denned or exemplified in such a way as to distinguish them from gossip. For example, participants could be given several exemplars of rumor and then asked to provide additional examples. These steps will help ensure that the phenomenon under consideration is truly rumor. We note that the study presented in this chapter involved the use of pure statement forms and that these pure forms exhibited different information-dimension patterns with continuous scales.
The use of continuous scales represents an advance over attempts to place a categorical label on a statement because it allows for the comparative emphasis of the statement's content, context, and function. For example, rumor may now be differentiated from gossip with comparative e. Indeed, our approach easily incorporates the concept of nebulous formsthose statements that are difficult to classify as rumor, gossip, or urban legend.
Future research could use IDSs to measure the information dimensions of nebulous forms and the extent to which they match prototypical rumor, gossip, or urban legend profiles. For example, the unverified statement about the boss's embezzlement of funds might turn out to score highly on prototypical.
Such an approach would prove more fruitful than would attempting to categorize the statement in one or the other form, or the equally undesirable alternative of minimizing distinctions between rumor, gossip, and urban legend. Armed with a clearer conceptualization of rumor, we turn first to a description of the phenomena. What types of rumors typically present themselves during times of uncertainty and threat? How frequently does each type of rumor occur?
Do rumors cause or contribute to human attitudes and behaviors? We address these questions in the next chapter. In late August , people died because of a rumor. Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims had converged in Baghdad to commemorate the anniversary of Imam Musa al-Kazim's death. Pilgrims were crossing a bridge in northern Baghdad when rumors of a suicide bomber caused them to panic: "We were all chanting slogans about Imam Musa, and then people started shouting about a suicide bomber," an injured eyewitness stated.
People started running on top of each other, and everyone was trying to save himself. Before we approach the social and organizational processes associated with rumor, we will more fully describe the phenomena. Rumor researchers have attempted to address three descriptive questions. First, in what ways does rumor sense making manifest itself? It is obvious that rumors differ in many ways, including content, style, periodicity, and motivational goal; it will be helpful to explore what categories or forms rumor takes. Second, how often does this collective sense making occur?
We once spoke with the senior vice president of PR at a large corporation who said, "I deal with rumors all the time. Third, does it matter? That is, do rumors cause or contribute to human action or attitudes in a significant way? It is surprising that this question has not often been addressed. It is frequently taken for grantedthrough anecdotes and intuitionthat rumors affect people. Yet do they really, and if so, how strongly and to what end? Again, it is beneficial to systematically assess what the effectthe falloutof rumor is. In the previous chapter we defined rumor; in this one we describe it.
Forms of Rumors G. Allport and Postman b noted that there are many ways to classify rumors depending on the interest of the analyst: "The rumor pie may be sliced in many ways" p. Rumors may be divided according to temporal aspects such as periodicity: Some rumors as we saw in chap. For example, the story that a thief, lying in wait under a woman's car that was parked in a shopping mall, slashed her ankles and stole her car surfaces periodically as a rumor about one's local shopping mall Mikkelson, Rumors may also be segmented according to subject matter; D. Miller surveyed examples of product rumors a leper had been discovered working in the Chesterfield cigarette factory , disaster rumors a Swedish nuclear power plant leaked radiation , and atrocity rumors a prisoner of war communicated his torture via a postage stamp.
In a similar way, rumors have often been categorized by their content or theme. In this way Knopf and P. Turner classified rumors related to race, whereas Fine and Koenig grouped commercial rumors see also Bird, Rumors may also be differentiated by the pattern of collective discussion surrounding them: Shibutani posited rumors arising out of low-anxiety deliberative sense-making discussions in contrast to those coming out of high-anxiety extemporaneous discussions. Extemporaneous rumor discussions are similar to Wilke's crisis rumors, which are endemic in situations in which there is a dearth of or ambiguity about information about an important topic.
Rumors have been cataloged according to the motivational tension that characterizes the rumor: R. Knapp categorized over 1, wartime rumors as either dread rumors fearful of a negative event , wish rumors hopeful of a positive event , or wedge-driving rumors expressive of hostility toward a people-group. To this motivational scheme, G. Allport and Postman b added curiosity intellectually puzzling rumors. For example, U. Air Force Captain Stephanie R. Kelley categorized wartime rumors surfacing in and around Baghdad according to Knapp's scheme S. Kelley, Among other interesting findings, Kelley observed a smaller percentage of wedge-driving and a greater percentage of fear rumors than did Knapp.
Kelley then categorized these wedge-driving rumors according to the target of their hostility, including U. Finally, Kelley categorized rumors according to collective concerns of the Iraqis. A quarter of the rumors reflected apprehension regarding the emerging government and political process such as the transfer of authority to Iraq, alleged international usually Zionist-United States plots to rule over Iraq, and possible civil war because of sectarian strife; other concerns included quality of life, the insurgency, and security.
Turnover rumors were about people leaving the organization and reflected employee interest in how turnover might affect job duties, advancement opportunities, and working conditions. Pecking order rumors were about changes in management hierarchy and reflected interest in how these changes would affect job stability and stock prices.
Rumors about job security and job quality reflected concerns about employment longevity, duties, and compensation. Costly error rumors were about mistakes and reflected concerns about stock prices, corporate reputation, and job security. Finally, consumer concern rumors were about customer apprehensions and reflected concerns about sales, environmental risks, and health effects. We also classified organizational rumors according to their rumor public: the people among which the rumor circulates.
Some rumors are primarily internal: "those of primary interest to company personnel, suppliers, or vendors i. Turnover, pecking order, job security, and job quality rumors are most likely to circulate among internal rumor publics. Some rumors are primarily external: "Those of primary interest to customers, press, stockholders, or the general public i. Costly error, consumer-concern, and stock-market rumors are most likely to be external rumors. This typology reflects the likely distinctions in both content and object of collective concern in rumors circulating among different organizational constituencies.
Organizational rumors are often most populousand troublesomeduring periods of change. Our organizational change rumor typology consisted of four types of rumors concerned with change: Rumors about changes to job and working conditions were about job loss, work practice changes, impacts on careers, loss of facilities, and staff reductions e. Rumors about the nature of the organizational change reflected concerns about changes to the structure and nature of the organization e.
Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches
This typology again reflects the sense making and threat management functions of rumor along several different aspects of the organizational change: how well the change is being managed, and its impact on jobs, organization structure, and organizational performance.
What is to be gained from these varied attempts to parse rumors? Classifying rumors highlights the contours of the collective sense making and threat management functions of rumor: They tell us what people are concerned about. Organizational members are obviously apprehensive about changes that may affect their jobs, working conditions, and financial security; when uncertain about such issues, they will participate in the rumor mill. In addition, classification often reveals underlying attitudes and beliefs G. Knapp, ; dread rumors reveal an underlying fear, for example, whereas hostility rumors indicate group conflict.
Kelley's observation of an entire family of rumors about alleged United States-. Zionist conspiracies to subdue Iraq revealed deep distrust and antipathy toward Israel. On a practical note, these categorization schemes prepare managers, PR officers, and opinion leaders for the types and nature of rumors they can expect. Frequency How often are rumors encountered? Our investigations concerning organizational rumors over a dozen years have included interviews, surveys, and lab experiments.
According to anecdotal evidence, managers and communications officials often relate that they deal with rumors frequently. Another complained, "I deal with rumors all the time! Horn and Haidt found that rumors arose much less frequently than did gossip in the "social talk" of college students Holly Horn, , personal communication. Hellweg's review of grapevine research concluded that a small portion of informal network information is rumor. During 2 years of service in a regimental military unit of over 1, men in the Pacific during World War II, Caplow noted that rumor frequency was low; Caplow's highest count was 17 rumors in 1 month.
Rumors are, of course, typically episodic in nature. In our longitudinal study of rumors in an organization undergoing radical downsizing see the rest of this chapter and chap. Some situations e. Managers are sensitive to the frequency of rumors, particularly those rumors that are harmful. Participants were members of the Arthur W.
The sample consisted of senior vice presidents of PR from Fortune corporations and well-known PR agency consultants. Participants reported that, on average, rumors that were of concern or potential concern reached their ears almost once per week. Thus, harmful or potentially harmful corporate rumors appear to be encountered frequently by PR professionals. Thus, it appears that most harmful corporate rumors heard by PR professionals circulate among internal constituencies.
Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches by Nicholas DiFonzo
In comparison, the median estimate of the percentage of gossip rumors i. Downsizing and restructuring, for example, led to rumors about benefit reductions and the transfer of job duties. As with internal rumors, perusal of the content of examples of these rumors showed that the preponderance of them related to organizational change. Impending mergers, for example, spawned stock-market rumors and rumors about the discontinuance of certain products. In organizational contexts at least, both internal and external rumors clearly become more frequent during times of change.
More recent work has focused on the frequency and flavor of internal organizational change rumors. We assessed the relative frequencies of internal organizational change rumors in the study of the hospital undergoing change mentioned earlier Bordia et al. The hospital was a hotbed of major and multiple changes taking place over several years: new hospital construction, new patient care technol-.
All 3, hospital staff members were mailed our questionnaire and 1, We asked respondents, "Please describe the last rumor you heard about the changes going on at [this organization].
In addition, the overwhelming motivational tension of these rumors was fear: Of the reported rumors that could be classified as either negative or positive, were dread rumors and 31 were wish rumors. Again, change was a catalyst for rumors; in organizations, the nature of these rumors is sense making amid anxiety about how organizational change may adversely affect job and working conditions. Furthermore, the most frequent types of rumors are those concerning negative consequences to employees e. Rumor participants seem to attempt to gain a sense of control over their own situation by becoming aware of the bad things that might happen to them because of the change.
Rumor Fallout Do rumors matter? That is, do they cause or contribute to behavior and mental processes? The answer to this question clearly is yes. Popular, business, and scientific literature is replete with instances in which rumors exerted or exacerbated powerful effects. For example, rumors during natural calamities have resulted in a number of outcomes Prasad, ; Shibutani, For example, Chinese earthquake rumors spawned "panicky and fatalistic [behaviors] such as killing and eating livestock and spending savings, stockpiling food supplies, trying to leave the area, not going to work and postponing essential agricultural activities" as well as "active information seeking" R.
Economic fallout of such rumors included food supply depletion and short-term inflation. Rumors have also long been implicated in precipitating ethnic riots Horowitz, ; Knopf, and exacerbating racial tensions G. A second example: False rumors that Hong Kong had been declared an area infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome SARS caused widespread panic there "Teenager Arrested," Telephone networks became jammed with people spreading the rumor, which resulted in bank and supermarket runs.
Rumor effects occur even if rumors themselves are not believed. Prasad noticed that people may have disbelieved rumors circulating after the calamitous Indian earthquake of , but they still acted on them. For example, trips to the Indian city of Patna were canceled on the day that a rumor predicted that Patna would cease to exist.
People apparently wanted to be safe rather than sorry; that is, even though the outcomes predicted by the rumor were very unlikely, they were extremely negative. We found the same sort of inference making at work in a rumor episode we observed in the headlights hoax. This rumor was transmitted by means of a flyer resembling a safety memo; the memo spread like a contagious virus via fax machines throughout the United States Mikkelson, b.
Exhibit 2. The fax urged people to not flash their car lights for anyone because of the deadly consequences that might occur. It alleged that nighttime motorists blinked their headlights at oncoming automobiles that were traveling with their headlights off as a kindly reminder to turn them on. This neighborly act resulted in the opposing motorist circling about, following the blinking motorist to his or her destination, and killing him or herall as part of a grisly new gang initiation rite. The fax allegedly originated from the Illinois state police; when we contacted them to verify the rumor, a tired trooper stated: "We've been getting phone calls about this for 2 weeks.
It never happened; it's a hoax! One likely explanation of these effects is prospect theory. Please take the time to read the remainder of this memo and inform your family members and friends. This awareness and precaution is important for both drivers and passengers whether at home or traveling on business or pleasure. When you flash your car lights to signal them that their lights are out, the gang members take it literally as "LIGHTS OUT", so they follow you to your destination and kill you!!!
That's their initiation. Two families have already fallen victim to this initiation ritual in the St. Louis and Chicago areas. This information should be given widespread distribution on our respective territories and posted on all bulletin boards. Beware and inform your families and friends. The consequences of blinking one's headlights, although improbable, were vividly and catastrophically negative.
The net effect of this rumor: a neighborly cultural practice diminished. The rumour differs from news insofar as news is confirmed in some way. Rumours can also be deliberately planted with false or misleading information misinformation. In contrast, gossip is banter about individuals that is evaluative and helps to build social bonds. Here the authors emphasize the role of gossip in building social networks and group solidarity. Gossip may or may not be substantiated or trivial, but rumour is always unsubstantiated and about subjects of relative importance.
The authors also make a distinction between rumour and urban legend or urban myth , which is a story with themes that propagate mores and values. An urban legend spreads if it is odd, amusing, or spectacular in some way. There are several factors that affect the circulation of rumours. Uncertainty, importance of the subject-matter, anxiety, and lack of control can motivate fact-finding activity. People who are building social relationships will share rumours as a way of promoting personal status and prestige.
Rumours may be spread maliciously to deceive an opponent or a strategically important audience, as is often the case in wartime.
The existence of mutual reinforcing rumours or widely repeated rumours can promote greater spread. The lack of trust within an organisation can promote rumour mongering, although bonds of trust can also have a mediating effect if potential causes of rumours are not very serious. The social status of the source of the rumour can determine the spread, such as when a trusted news source reports a rumour.
Conversely, rebutting a harmful rumour is best done by a disinterested party. Finally, the substance of the rumour will determine spread: a well crafted rumour will travel. As the authors argue, rumours are distortions insofar as they are prepackaged, ready-made explanations. Rumours usually assume stable causes rather than chance stable cause attribution bias. This often leads to erroneous relationships between variables illusory associations.
People assume that the next event in a sequence will jive with a larger trend anti-regressive predictions.