Rumor, Cause and Effect in Modern Society
A rumor, can be defined as “a false story about current affairs that circulated in the community, usually by rumor or popular speech.” A famous example of a rumor is when a giant asteroid will come to the Earth on July 11, 2021. But how do rumors start? And how do they end?
rumors are started by something in the environment which seems to instigate an emotional reaction from the source of the rumor, usually some kind of social event or group of people. These are generally “snake oil” type stories, which are usually started by someone in authority (such as the postman) in order to divert attention from the current news or current affairs. They are usually not completely false; however, they lack substantial verification, and there is very little if any supporting evidence. They can take the form of urban legend or blatant fraud.
The most common psychological theory of how gossip spreads is that it starts with a single story, which gets passed from one person to another. They are gossiped about, retold, re-telling, and told again. This kind of psychological pattern is what we would call “propaganda” – spreading information systematically through different channels in order to create an impression. Propaganda, in the context of gossip, should not be confused with mere opinion or exaggeration, but with the deliberate crafting of a story which deliberately misrepresents a particular set of facts, ideas, or behaviours.
In addition, allport believes that rumors spread because of informal networks, which he characterizes as “sympathy cells”. The basic logic of this is that a person who is feeling bad tends to tell others, who are feeling bad, and so forth. So when one individual tells a friend, who in turn tells another, and so on, the effect is a circle of friends spreading a rumor, with each one essentially contributing a fraction of the original gossip.
Allport’s basic thesis is that rumors are designed to create a psychological impact. If you remember your physics class, you may recall the classic example of a leaky faucet. This example has become famously known as the “parable faucet”, because a leaky faucet can literally flood a room (in the case of kitchen taps). Allport’s psychology suggests that rumors have a similar effect in the workplace, creating a “wedge” around a particular idea or behavior, so that it stands out in the public’s mind as being a dangerous or illegitimate proposition.
Allport’s most famous example of a rumor is his classic schachter test. Schachter’s demonstration of the power of rumor is perhaps even more important than his explanation of its psychological basis. According to Allport, a teacher named Mr. Paulus who taught a large class of students, took the test and announced that he was going to give a lecture on “ontestructive listening”. Immediately following this, the class became in uproar over the “crime” that this teacher was charged with; but when the professor tried to defend himself, he was unable to do so because his argument had been blown out of context. Following the professor’s mis-hearing, the school secretary named Mrs. Weber called the police, who arrested the teacher and brought him to trial.