What Is a Rumor?

A rumor is an unofficial story that spreads through word of mouth. It can be true or false, and it might even be a combination of both. For example, someone might hear a rumor that a rap superstar stopped for ice cream in their town, but it is unlikely that this really happened. Whether the rumor is true or not, it can affect people in many ways. It can inspire or deter them from taking certain actions, such as going to the store to get a new haircut. In a social context, it can also lead to an outbreak of conflict between two parties.

The modern scholarly definition of the term rumor is based on the pioneering work of German researcher William Stern in 1902. He experimented with a chain of subjects who passed a story from mouth to ear without repeating it or explaining it. Stern noticed that the rumors were often shortened and changed by the time they reached the end of the chain. He used this insight to create a model of rumor that is still widely cited today.

While the majority of rumors are purely fictional, some are more serious in nature. For instance, rumors about the health of a celebrity can have an impact on that person’s reputation and career. In addition, the rumors may influence the way in which other celebrities are perceived. In this sense, a rumor can be a type of public opinion poll.

Several different kinds of rumors have been identified and researched by scholars. Some of them are motivated by particular needs in the community. For instance, the rumor that ‘Eating Lay’s potato chips causes cancer’ can be seen as a response to a public concern about health issues. Other rumors are motivated by personal or individual concerns. The rumor that ‘If one lies, the person loses five hairs from their head’ is an attempt to promote honesty. In addition, rumors can be motivated by various interests in society. The rumor that ‘The coronavirus can be transmitted through dates’ is an attempt to promote ethical values.

Some rumors are influenced by certain attitudes, be they cultural, political or social (see Table 1). For instance, the rumor that if one stares into the dark, he or she will see a ghost reflects a negative attitude towards darkness and spirits. In addition, rumors can be influenced by the level of education that individuals possess.

Some rumors are promoted by natural interest groups, for example, the rumor that ‘Cows produce more milk when listening to music’. In contrast, other rumors are promoted by a natural disinterest group such as the rumor that ‘If one listens to music, a skewer made of fire will be stuck into one’s ear’. Finally, rumors can be motivated by social interest as is the case with the rumor that ‘Major airlines are planning to close for six days’. In this way, a rumor can be considered as an effective tool to stimulate the desire for information in society.