A rumor is an unsubstantiated statement that spreads quickly. It can be about anything from a celebrity’s latest sex scandal to a school closing early. Rumors are often false but can also be true. They are often influenced by cognitive, motivational, situational, and group factors. Rumors can be spread intentionally to gain power, money or attention and they can also be unintentional. Rumors are closely entwined with social psychology, communication studies and organizational behavior.
The earliest definition of a rumor was provided by American sociologist Knapp who described it as “a proposition for belief about a topical reference disseminated without official authority.” Since then, rumors have been studied from the perspectives of sociology, psychology and communication.
Researchers have found that a rumor’s accuracy depends on many factors including: the person spreading the rumor, the teller-listener relationship, and the transmission pattern. For example, a rumor about an earthquake is more likely to be believed when it comes from someone close to the event. People who listen to a rumor multiple times are more likely to believe it and they tend to change the details of the story with each repetition. The rumor also becomes more credible if it is told by someone with a reputation for being trustworthy.
When it comes to organizations, rumor can be highly destructive. It can damage morale, productivity and cause a loss of trust. It is important to identify and manage rumors because they are one of the most common sources of information in modern society. Organizations should develop formal rumor control strategies that include training and awareness programs, policy development and monitoring, and effective communications between managers and employees.
It is important to understand why people spread rumors and what can be done to prevent them. Some rumors are spread to manipulate the public opinion, for example, to attack political rivals with misinformation or defend the flat-earth theory. Other rumors are spread to help people deal with the stress of a natural disaster, for instance, to tell people where to evacuate or how to stay safe.
Another purpose of a rumor is to help people cope with negative events, for example, telling them that their department is being downsized because the new CEO is interested in short term stock gains and doesn’t care about long term company health. The ability of a rumor to make sense of an ambiguous or unpleasant situation helps to explain why it is so popular and widely accepted in the modern world. Rumors are also often self-enhancing and help boost the teller’s or listener’s status. This is especially the case for rumors about others that are critical of them. Lastly, rumors can be spread as part of a group identity. For example, a college student hears that the Dean of the University is a bad person and feels a desire to prove that she is right. This desire drives people to tell the rumor.