The psychology of rumours

rumor_psych_book.jpgBoingBoing has alerted me to the fact that a book on psychology of rumours has just been published.

The book is by two psychologists, Profs Nicholas DiFonzo and Prashant Bordia who have been researching the topic and have consulted on legal cases where rumours have been involved.

It is entitled Rumor Psychology (ISBN 1591474264) and tackles the function and structure of rumour and gossip, and distringuishes between these two forms of social communication.

Exactly what is rumor, and how does it differ from gossip? Even though these terms are commonly used interchangeably, they differ greatly in function and content. While gossip is evaluative social talk that provides social network formation and group solidarity, rumor functions to make sense of an ambiguous situation or to help people adapt to perceived or actual threats. Why do people spread and believe rumors? Rumors are an enduring feature of our social and organizational landscapes. They attract attention, evoke emotion, incite involvement, affect attitudes and actions—and they are ubiquitous. Rumor transmission is motivated by three broad psychological motivations—fact-finding, relationship-enhancement, and self-enhancement—all of which help individuals and groups make sense in the face of uncertainty.

In fact, you can take part in their research online, by completing a survey that asks about a rumour and how you heard about it or discussed it with others.

I’ve not read the book, but I’m always fascinated by books on the psychology of seemingly mundane behaviour.

A recent book by sociologist Charles Tilly, entitled “Why?” (ISBN 069112521X) analysed the reasons people use to explain events or behavior.

He lists four basic types of reasons: conventions (socially accepted clich√©s like “My train was late,” or “We’re otherwise engaged that evening”), stories (simplified cause-effect narratives), codes (legal, religious) and technical accounts (complicated narratives, often impenetrable to nonspecialists).

He argues that the type of reason we give is often determined by the social relation to the people we are talking to in any given situation.

Link to more info on book.
Link to article on Tilly’s arguments in “Why?”.

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