Rumor is a term used in social psychology and other scholarly disciplines to refer to informal social communications that are believed without verification. In general, rumors are information that is spread by members of a group in order to make sense of an ambiguous situation or to manage physical or psychological threat.
Despite this pervasive characteristic of human communication, a lack of understanding about rumor is widespread. As a result, the study of rumor is growing in popularity and scope.
There are several factors that affect the way people believe in and transmit rumors. These factors include:
Personality traits (e.g., openness, sensitivity, empatheticity)
Some individuals have personality characteristics that allow them to recognize and respond appropriately to rumors. These qualities are thought to be linked to the social context in which a person is living and to their own sense of self, a feature of which is the presence or absence of anxiety and fear.
Another factor that influences a person’s belief in a rumor is the teller-listener relationship; rumors that are told to enhance one’s relationships are believed more than those told for other reasons.
A fourth factor that influences a person’s belief is whether the rumor proceeds from a credible source; rumors that come from an anonymous source are less likely to be believed than those spread by a reputable source.
The nature of the rumor itself is also an important factor that determines the way it will be received by other members of the rumor public. Some rumors are designed to be humorous, while others are intended to be threatening.
Other types of rumor include sense-making rumors, which are discussed to make meaning out of a threatening situation or to cope with uncertainty. These rumors are often disseminated to groups that need to work together in order to solve problems, such as in a school district where employees are trying to figure out why they have been forced to change the superintendent’s position. Other rumors are told to help people find the facts about a threatening situation, such as when employees are laid off at a manufacturing plant and are unsure of the consequences.