New York Times Magazine ’s 2006 “"/>

The Watercooler Effect: A Psychologist Explores the Extraordinary Power of Rumors

Nicholas DiFonzo, Author . Avery $24.95 (291p) ISBN 978-1-58333-325-9

DiFonzo, a professor of psychology at the Rochester Institute of Technology whose work on rumors was featured in the New York Times Magazine ’s 2006 “Year in Ideas” issue, uncovers some surprising facts about rumors: what they are and why we spread them, listen to them and believe them. Drawing on a host of studies, DiFonzo illustrates how rumors are “a fundamental phenomenon of social beings.” Rumors are created by people who are in unclear or confusing situations and want desperately to find an explanation. There are different varieties of rumors: they can express something much wished for (year-end bonuses), while others are a form of propaganda. Rumors can be a remarkably efficient way of spreading information: a study of military gossip during WWII found that the “grapevine” passed information just as accurately as—and more quickly than—official channels. But gossip drives wedges between people as often as it binds them. “Viral” rumors, spread repeatedly by e-mail, can gain credibility from repetition, and such repetition can turn a rumor into a self-fulfilling prophecy: banks fail, stocks tank. DiFonzo’s clear explanations and entertaining examples make for thoughtful reading. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/23/2008
Release date: 09/01/2008
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