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The Truth About Rumors And Why We Believe Them

Armen Hareyan's picture

Rumor and Gossip Psychology

A flurry of rumor and gossip followed recent reports of a small plane hitting a high-rise apartment building on New York's Upper East Side. Was it a helicopter or a plane? Was it an accident or a terrorist attack? The pilot's celebrity identity added another strange twist as the rumor unraveled to substantiated fact.

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The process of that unraveling, of people sorting out bits of fact and fiction, fascinates Nicholas DiFonzo, professor of social and organization psychology at Rochester Institute of Technology and one of the leading experts on rumor and gossip research. He is currently researching how rumors proliferate, spread and die over time as part of a National Science Foundation-funded study.

In their recent book Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches published by APA Books, DiFonzo and co-author Prashant Borida, associate professor of management at the University of South Australia, present new research and ideas about rumors, which they differentiate from gossip and urban legend.

"A rumor is what you do when you try to figure out the truth with other people," DiFonzo says. "It's collective sense making. The classic example is 'I heard that