What does a study by three psychologists mentioned in the Feb. 12, 2011 Economist have to do with history myths?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Derek Rucker and David Dubois of the Kellogg School of Management and Zakary Tormala of Stanford business school were studying the psychology of information qualifiers and how rumors are spread. Experimenting with undergraduates, they found that, as information is passed around, the qualifiers are lost. For instance, the first person says, “I am not sure if this is true, but I’ve heard that . . . ” The second person repeats it as, “I heard that . . . ” Soon it becomes, “Did you know that . . . ?” Even when no one intends to spread false stories, they spread because the qualifiers fail to travel along with the rumor.
The focus of their research was on whether companies should rebut false information, but I thought it was worth pointing out for its application to the spread of historical myths, or “myth-information,” as someone called it.
The article is quite short. Read it at http://www.economist.com/node/18114835.