Rumour Acceptance and Disbelief
The word “rumor” comes from the Latin word “rundus”. It has come to mean “one guessed”, “thought upon”, or “an unexpected incident”. In its broadest sense the word means “a false report, fanciful story, or assertion; something guessed or assumed.” In its narrower sense, a rumor is “any story, especially a story of an occurrence that is untrue”.
Of course, “rumour” has other meanings. For instance “rumour” can mean “fabrication”,” exaggeration”, “malicious fabrication”, “deceit”, “mischief” or “performance”. It is easy to see how an element like “malicious fabrication” can have a negative impact on a company’s reputation. Rumours can also be a very good way to communicate information within an organization and to share information with colleagues. This type of gossip can actually help to strengthen an organization’s strategic communication efforts, if the right kinds are shared and investigated, by getting feedback on the validity, credibility and truthfulness of key details.
But why do rumours evolve? Why do they become part of and build the basis of organisational culture? There are many possible answers to this question. One of the most common ones is that rumours serve as a device to spread negativity within a company or organisation and to provide a source of pride and self-satisfaction when results are achieved. When a rumour becomes the accepted norm, it begins to shape the way people interact within the organisation and, ultimately, within the larger business community.
Such rumours can also have quite an indirect impact on the effectiveness of promotional communication strategies. For instance, a rumour that an employee has committed a transgression can have an immediate negative impact on performance. However, if the rumour is true, people may try to justify the transgression in order to ‘set straight’ their own sense of guilt about performing poorly. This is the so-called ‘internalisation’ of guilt, where a company’s employees start to believe that they really should be performing better, but are holding back due to feelings of shame or conscience.
Rumours, then, can have a significant influence on the quality of employees’ performance. One cannot, therefore, simply discount the possibility that rumours have an indirect effect on the performance of organisations’ managers and employees. But this must be considered against the alternative: the widespread and unchecked spread of incorrect and false rumours. Rumours, when circulating in the wrong way and unchecked, have a far more far-reaching impact than the mere expectation of performance from a test subject. The social cognition model of Rumour Acceptance/Disbelief (SAR) is one in which acceptance of a rumour leads to the expectation of its truth, and disbelief, to the consequences of its falsity.
So how can we ensure the reliability of rumours? One approach to this is to ensure that the information you are circulating is as fresh and true as possible. Other approaches are to ask people who may be inclined to circulate the rumour or to carry out controlled experiments (e.g. replication studies) to see if the rumour performs differently when a control is applied. In both cases, social cognition research has provided important insights into the process of spreading and understanding rumours and could well play a part in future efforts to reduce the negative social impact of misinformation