Everyone who has worked in a company or gone to high school knows that rumors can be very damaging. They can destroy one’s reputation and even affect their career, especially if the rumor is about them. Rumors can also spread very quickly and become difficult to stop. Therefore, it is important to address them as soon as possible before they can cause any serious damage.
The term “rumor” is often used to refer to any kind of untrue statement. However, there is a specific type of rumor that is often talked about in the workplace and in schools: the gossip about someone’s behavior or activities. Rumors about this sort of activity typically begin when a coworker or student overhears something that is said out loud or in a private conversation. This rumor can then be passed along by other people, and it can take on a life of its own.
Several factors have been shown to influence the transmission of rumors. For example, uncertainty about a situation encourages discussion of rumors as people try to understand it and predict future events. Anxiety-an emotional state of dread concerning a potential negative event-also promotes rumor discussion as people attempt to thwart the negative event or feel better about it by regaining a psychological sense of control. People tend to discuss and pass along rumors that are important to them, as well as those they believe are true.
In addition, rumor transmission is influenced by social network characteristics, including the interaction among participants and the way in which a rumor is transmitted. In a laboratory study, for example, rumors that were discussed serially with interaction between each teller and listener were more accurate than those that were simply repeated without discussion. Similarly, in a field study of soldiers during World War II, rumors that were verified by superior officers were more accurate than those that were not. Other influences include the tendency of individuals to conform to group norms and ideas, such as by agreeing with epistemic norms or beliefs shared by the teller.
Rumors also play other social functions, such as enhancing relationships by making people feel closer to one another. They can also help people manage threats to their psychological sense of self by derogating other groups and therefore boosting the individual’s own group in comparison, as in the (false) rumor that the Israeli government was behind the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Rumors are especially difficult to manage in the age of the internet, where information can be spread much more quickly than ever before. As a result, the study of rumor has been revived in recent years. This new phase of research builds on the foundation laid down in scholarship from the past, when scholars studied party-line telephone calls and black-and-white televisions. The field of rumor studies has now expanded to the study of rumors in social media, where everyone is both a creator and a receiver of information.