The study of rumours reveals a variety of interesting facts about their origin and transmission. These facts distinguish rumor from gossip, which is a different kind of social communication. One of the most striking characteristics of rumor is its ambiguity. It can appeal to different audiences and transfer to rivals. Moreover, the definition of rumor is very diverse, as it differs in its context, sensitivity, and content.
The study of rumor is a field that has attracted scientists from different backgrounds and disciplines. In 1902, social scientists William Stern conducted an experiment in which people were told to make up stories. He put them into “chains” and then asked them to tell the stories to their colleagues. The result of the experiment was that the stories became shorter as the chain of subjects grew longer. Another pioneer in the field was Gordon Allport, who studied verbal interactions over the internet.
The process of rumour creation and propagation is complex. Researchers have posited four factors that influence the propagation of rumours: uncertainty, juicy information, ambiguity, and anxiety. A third factor is a lack of clarity in information. The availability of information may encourage the spreading of rumors. The more ambiguous or enticing the information, the more likely it is to become a rumour.
There are four key components that influence the creation and spread of rumours. The first is the anxiousness of the subject, which may cause people to fabricate a story. The second is the ambiguity of the subject. As a result, people tend to spread rumours when the truth is unclear. By controlling ambiguity, a person can avoid misunderstandings that may lead to conflict and miscommunication.
The third factor is the levelling of information in rumours. A rumour is a form of information, which has been distorted or defamatory. Allport and Postman defined the three types of rumours as levelling, sharpening, and assimilation. Those terms refer to the loss of detail in the transmission of information. The third component involves the distortion in the production and dissemination of rumours.
Research on the development of rumours has demonstrated that people often create rumours when they are ambiguous about the nature of a situation. A rumour can spread a story that is inaccurate. For instance, a story that is false is more likely to spread than one based on ambiguity. However, a rumour can be a dangerous situation if the source of a rumour is inaccurate.
Besides affecting interpersonal and group relationships, rumours also can have an effect on group loyalty and other forms of interpersonal relations. In the United States, for example, many Catholics were drafted and subsequently did not want to be part of the military. While the United States has a tradition of loyalties, some of its citizens are not. Thus, a rumour can lead to a conflict and cause problems.