Rumor is a piece of information that is passed from one person to another without it having been verified by the source. The information may be true, false or ambiguous, and it is often misinterpreted by the receivers of the rumor. Some rumors are gossip and others are a form of public communication, such as news and satire. Rumor is a common part of human life, and it plays a major role in the way people communicate.
The psychology of rumor has been a subject of study for several decades. Social psychologists have analyzed how rumors spread and what factors influence them. Some of the most important variables are uncertainty (a lack of knowledge about a situation or event) and anxiety (personal or environmental). Anxiety can be either situational or personality-based, and it leads to speculation and rumor spreading as people try to understand their environment or predict what will happen.
Researchers have also analyzed the characteristics of rumors and what makes them more or less credible. Some important characteristics include retweeting and the inclusion of evidence in a rumor. Evidence includes a first-hand experience, quoting an accessible source, a picture and the use of reasoning. A rumor is more likely to be believed if it is about an event that is relevant to the recipient. It is also more likely to be passed along if the recipient believes it is true.
Another factor in rumor dissemination is how easy it is for the individual to remember the details of the rumor. When a rumor is repeated, it becomes more and more refined as the individuals involved in the transmission of the rumor add their own details. For example, when subject #1 told subject #2 about a car accident that happened to their friend, subject #2 remembered about 12 details. When subject #2 then repeated the rumor to subject #3, they forgot about 4 of the details and added 2 more of their own.
In addition, the number of times a rumor is heard increases the likelihood that it will be believed. For example, a Wall Street stockbroker who heard the same rumor about the White House covering up the death of Vince Foster several times was more likely to believe it than if he had only heard it once.
In addition to the psychological aspects of rumor, social media has become an important tool for researchers in studying the spread of rumors. For example, researchers have studied the way that Twitter users filter and share information about a particular rumor. They have also used Twitter to track the spread of rumors, focusing on whether or not they were true or false. The authors of a recent study have also used Twitter to investigate how rumors spread during the coronavirus pandemic. They tracked the number of retweets for each tweet and whether or not it was an early report of a rumor, a retweet of a verified rumor, or a rumor that was later proven to be false.