Rumor Transmission Theory A

rumor may be defined as an unconfirmed message passed from one person to another in face-to-face interaction (cf., children's game of "Gossip" or "Chinese Whispers") that refers to an object, person, or situation rather than to an idea or theory. Thus, the notions of "gossip," "grapevine," "hearsay," "tattle-tale," and "scuttlebutt" (along with the snowball effect - the increased magnification of material upon the retelling of it) are included in rumor transmission. The American sociologist H. Taylor Buckner (1965) notes that whether a rumor is truthful or untruthful is unimportant in studying rumor transmission. The essential features of a rumor are that it is unconfirmed at the time of transmission, and that it is passed from one person to another. Buckner's theoretical framework for rumor transmission is that the individual is in one of three orientations, situations, or "sets" vis-à-vis a rumor: a critical set, an uncritical set, or a transmission set. If the person takes a critical set, he/she is capable of using "critical ability" to separate the true from the false in rumors. If an uncritical set is adopted, the person is unable to use "critical ability" to test the truth of the rumor. In the transmission set - usually found in laboratory experiments - the individual's "critical ability" is considered to be irrelevant. Thus, in Buckner's theory of rumor transmission, whether rumors become more or less accurate as they are passed on depends on the individual's "set" and on the structure of the situation in which the rumor originates and spreads subsequently. In the rumor intensity formula -a theoretical proposition advanced by the American psychologists Gordon Willard Allport (1897-1967) and Leo Joseph Postman (1918- ) - the suggestion is made that the strength of a rumor depends on its importance multiplied by the difficulty of falsifying it. In general, rumors seem to be propagated and governed by the same processes that underlie the phenomena of assimilation (i.e., the distortion of a memory via attempts to make it similar to other already-existing memories), sharpening (i.e., the exaggeration/magnification of certain prominent details in memory/perception), and leveling (i.e., the tendency to perceive/remember material as "good gestalts" where unimportant and incon gruous details disappear gradually over time). The technique of serial reproduction - a procedure for studying memory in a social context - has been used, also, as a laboratory model of rumor transmission. This approach -developed, described, and popularized by the American psychologist Ernest N. Henderson (1869-1967) and the English psychologist Sir Frederic C. Bartlett (1886-1969) - involves a person reading a short story and then telling it from memory to a second person who, in turn, tells it from memory to a third person, etc., in a "round-robin" procedure that is similar to the child's game of "Gossip." When this method is employed, the phenomena of leveling, sharpening, and assimilation typically are exhibited after about only eight separate transmissions. In a variation of the serial reproduction technique, an original stimulus that is different from the short-story stimulus/material - such as a drawing that is reproduced serially from memory by each of the members of the group - may be used to achieve the same results. See also GESTALT THEORY/LAWS; INFECTION THEORY/EFFECT; PERCEPTION (I. GENERAL), THEORIES OF. REFERENCES

Henderson, E. N. (1903). Introductory: Education and experimental psychology. Psychological Monographs, 5, 1-94. Bartlett, F. C. (1932). Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Allport, G. W., & Postman, L. J. (1947). The psychology of rumor. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Charus, A. (1953). The basic law of rumor.

Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 48, 313-314. Buckner, H. T. (1965). A theory of rumor transmission. Public Opinion Quarterly, 29, 54-70. Rosnow, R. L. (1980). Psychology of rumor reconsidered. Psychological Bulletin, 87, 578-591.

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