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Gossip May Override the Facts

People Are More Likely to Be Influenced by What They Hear Rather Than What They See
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 15, 2007 -- Gossip may override eyewitness accounts when it comes to telling fact from fiction.

A new study shows that people are influenced by gossip about others even when it contradicts what they’ve seen with their own eyes.

Researchers say the results show that the power of gossip in influencing people’s actions and what they think of others should not be underrated.

“Gossip has a strong manipulative potential that could be used by cheaters to change the reputation of others or even change their own,” write researcher Ralf Sommerfeld of the Max-Plank-Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany, and colleagues. “This finding suggests that humans are used to basing their decisions on gossip, rumors, or other spoken information.”

Their results appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Power of Gossip

To access the power of gossip over people’s actions and perception of others, researchers examined the behavior of 126 college students during a series of computer game sessions. The players were asked to rate other players based on their anonymous interactions with them via computer and then again after they read preset statements about the players gathered during the initial rounds of play.

The study showed the gossip written about cooperative game players was more positive than gossip written about uncooperative players.

But the study also showed that influence of gossip remained significant even when the player had direct information about the player based on earlier interactions. Researchers found 44% of players changed their decision about their peers in the later rounds after reading the gossip.

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