Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some interesting research on rumors

One of the more humorous aspects of working in a middle school is listening to the rumors that pop up. The more uncertain the times or circumstances, the more prevalent and wild are the rumors. “Rumors have been described as public communications that are infused with private hypotheses about how the world works (Rosnow, 1991), or more specifically, ways of making sense to help us cope with our anxieties and uncertainties (Rosnow, 1988, 2001). There is even a Basic Mathematical Law of Rumor which states that rumor strength (R) will vary with the importance of the subject to the individual concerned (i) times the ambiguity of the evidence pertaining to the topic at hand (a), or R ≈ i × a.” (Source: Psychological Science Agenda Volume 19: No. 4, April 2005)

According to Wikipedia, “A Psychology of Rumor" was published by Robert Knapp in 1944. Knapp identified three basic characteristics that apply to rumor: 1. they're transmitted by word of mouth; 2. they provide "information" about a "person, happening, or condition"; and 3. they express and gratify "the emotional needs of the community." Based on his study of the newspaper column, Knapp divided those rumors into three types:
1. Pipe dream rumors: reflect public desires and wished-for outcomes
2. Bogie or fear rumors reflect feared outcomes.
3. Wedge-driving rumors intend to undermine group loyalty or interpersonal relations
Knapp also found that negative rumors were more likely to be disseminated than positive rumors.

I raise this issue because with the arrival of spring comes the arrival of:
• Rumors among students about other students (these are often wedge-driving rumors)
• Rumors among teachers and staff about a variety of topics like salary (these are most often bogie rumors)
• Rumors about legislative approval of the funding formula (these are pipe dream rumors I am afraid).

What do you do when you hear a rumor? Do you spread it or gather facts and data to prove or disprove it? If you gather facts to confirm or disprove the rumor, you are part of the solution. If you further spread or distort the rumor, you contribute to the problem.

While I do my best to laugh at some of the rumors I hear around school, I also understand that rumors often spring from anxiety and fear. My recommendation to those who hear a rumor is to:
1. Find out if it is true or false
2. Not spread it any further
3. Educate the rumor monger that the rumor is true or false
Please help us with rumor control. By doing this, you will contribute to making Taylor and the world a safer, happier place.

1 comment:

Amber said...

I know that when people spread a rumor there is always a underlying reason why the person is continuing it. When its within my sphere of influence, I try and not only quash the rumor, but speak to the underlying reason. It becomes a great source of encouragement to others when we take the time to speak positive things in their lives. :)