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    A theory of rumor transmission.

    Buckner HT

    Public Opinion Quarterly. 1965 Spring; 29:54-70.

    A theoretical framework is developed that demonstrates that the seemingly contradictory research conclusions that rumors expand and contract are actually complementary and that each is correct given the circumstances of its derivation. There is general agreement in the field that a rumor is an unconfirmed message passed from 1 person to another in face-to-face interaction that refers to an object, person, or situation rather than an idea or theory. Whether a rumor is truthful or untruthful is unimportant in studying its transmission. The essential features of a rumor are that it is unconfirmed at the time of transmission, and that is passed from 1 person to another. The individual may find himself/herself in 1 of 3 orientations or situations in relation to a rumor: the rumor may cause the individual to take a critical set, an uncritical set, or a transmission set toward it. If the individual takes a critical set it means that he/she is capable of using "critical ability" to separate the true from the false in rumors. If an individual takes an uncritical set, it means that he/she is unable to use "critical ability" to test the truth of the rumor he/she hears. If the individual takes the transmission set, usually found in laboratory experiments, his/her critical ability is irrelevant. Except for the natural redundancy of language, past experiments on rumor transmission do not have redundancies. In a face-to-face conversation a person hears a rumor and asks for a clarification of message or source if he/she does not understand it. In a situation where a rumor is a topic of conversation and speculation, interaction produces a modified "Gestalt" at every discussion of the rumor. There is another type of redundancy besides that brought about by the normal community setting, the individual would probably hear the rumor more than once. Implicit in the discussion of single and multiple interactions is the idea of 2 different kinds of rumor patterns. In the 1st type, the chain, the rumor moves from person to person in a serial manner in a series of single interactions. In the 2nd type, the network, many people hear the rumor from more than 1 source. 2 group level variables operate to promote or retard the spreading or repeating of rumors: the structure of the group or public through which the rumor is spreading, and the involvement or interest the group has in the topic. The empirical evidence suggests that where individuals have critical ability and interact with more than 1 person, the rumor will become more precise with each transmission, it will have its false elements stripped away, and it will become more accurate because of cross checking with knowledgeable sources.
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