Basic Psychology of Rumor for Psych. Warfare

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Basic Psychology of Rumor for Psych. Warfare

Postby Hugh Manatee Wins » Mon Jun 16, 2008 11:19 pm

(The science of packaging a message and getting it to travel and stick to the mind is now called viral marketing and branding. The template for the processes involved are in the way rumors work and they were much studied during WWII.

The text I've edited below describes how a rumor or story inevitably simplifies down to catchy keywords and other ideal traits of a story that stick in our minds best.

This is just what you want to use if you are a military-intelligence psychological operations expert creating either propaganda or counterpropaganda, the professional and even dishonest sellers in the "marketplace of ideas."

Re: Counterpropaganda using Inoculation Theory and Interference Theory

These idealized traits of rumor are precisely the things to know if suppressed information is to be dismembered and the main narrative components grafted into a benign decoy narrative that sticks in the mind better than the suppressed information, a process recognized since 1961 as "inoculation theory."

"Interference theory" describes how it is possible to make it harder to associate two related stimuli, to "connect the dots," using perfectly contradicting language in just the right ways.

The idea is that the mind can be induced to resist information the same way the body can be inoculated against disease, by using just enough of the disease to activate defenses.
In memory, this means using fiction to pre-bias the brain into thinking it already knows the story of a real scandal but with the heroes and villains reversed or atleast pleasant associations instead of disturbing ones.

Example: The 1968 assassination of Senator Robert Kennedy by his bodyguard in a kitchen at the same time a hypnoprogrammed patsy was firing blanks to be framed up and jailed... is complicated.
*But Disney's (CIA for kidz!) movie called 'Ratatouille' about a rat in a kitchen secretly guiding the hands of a human cook is simpler, cute, and gets to kid's minds first to pre-bias them to the friendly fictional counterpropaganda.

Notice the value of what propaganda science calls "primacy," getting to the mind first to embed the preferred cover-up story. Lots of CIA covert socializing propaganda for children is done just this way, with cute stories. And parents have no idea this is going on.


'Public Opinion and Propaganda: A Book of Readings, Edited for the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues,' 1954

Chapter - The Basic Psychology of Rumor, pages 398- 402

What happens in real life and laboratory rumors is a complex course of distortion in which three interrelated tendencies are clearly distinguishable.


As rumor travels, it tends to grow shorter, more concise, more easily grasped and told. In successive versions, fewer words are used and fewer details are mentioned.

We may define sharpening as the selective perception, retention, and reporting of a limited number of details from a larger context. Sharpening is inevitably the reciprocal of leveling. The one cannot exist without the other, for what little remains to a rumor after leveling has taken place is by contrast unavoidably featured.
One way in which the sharpening seems to be determined is through the retention of odd, or attention-getting words which, having appeared early in the series, catch the attention of each successive listener and are often passed on in preference to other details intrinsically more important to the story.
There is also a temporal sharpening manifested in the tendency to describe events as occurring in the immediate present. What happens in the here and now is of greatest interest and importance to the perceiver.
Sharpening often takes place where there is a clear implication of movement.
Relative size is also a primary determinant of attention. Objects that are prominent because of their size tend to be retained and sharpened.
There are verbal as well as physical determinants of attention. Thus, there is a pronounced tendency for labels to persist, especially if they serve to set the stage for the story. .....To explain this type of sharpening, we may invoke the desire of the subject to achieve some spatial and temporal schema for the story to come. Such orientation is essential in ordinary life and appears to constitute a strong need even when imaginal material is dealt with.
An additional factor making for preferential retention of spatial and temporal labels is the primacy effect. An item that comes first in a series is likely to be better remembered than subsequent items. Usually, the label indicating place and time comes at the beginning of a report and thus benefits by the primacy effect.
Sharpening also occurs in relation to familiar symbols.
Explanations added by the reporter to the description transmitted to him comprise the final form of sharpening. They represent a tendency to put 'closure' upon a story which is otherwise felt to be incomplete. They illustrate the effort after 'meaning' which customarily haunts the subject who finds himself in an unstructured situtation.
Such need for sharpening by explanation becomes especially strong when the story has been badly distorted and the report contains implausible and incompatible items.
Here, perhaps, is the place to take issue with the popular notion that rumors tend to expand like snowballs, become elaborate and verbose. Actually, the course of a rumor is toward brevity...Such exaggeration as exists is nearly always a sharpening of some feature resident in the original stimulus-situation. The distortion caused by sharpening is, of course, enormous in extent; but we do not find that we need the category of "elaboration" to account for the changes we observe.


It is apparent that both leveling and sharpening are selective processes. But what is it that leads to the obliteration of some details and the pointing-up of others; and what accounts for all transpositions, importations, and other falsifications that mark the course of rumor? The answer is to be found in the process of assimilation, which has to do with the powerful attractive force exerted upon rumor by habits, interests, and sentiments existing in the listener's mind.

Assimilation to Principal Theme

It generally happens that items become sharpened or leveled to fit the leading motif of the story, and they become consistent with this motif in such a way as to make the resulting story more coherent, plausible, and well-rounded.

Good Continuation

Falsifications of perception and memory...occur in the interests of bringing about a more coherent, consistent mental configuration. Every detail is assimilated to the principal theme, and "good continuation" is sought, in order to round out meaning where it is lacking or incomplete.

Assimilation by Condensation

It sometimes seems as though memory tries to burden itself as little as possible. For instance, instead of remembering two items, it is more economical to fuse them into one.

Assimilation to Expectation

Just as details are changed or imported to bear out the simplified theme that the listener has in mind, so also many items take a form that supports the agent's habits of thought.
Things that are perceived are remembered the way they usually are.
The most spectacular of all our assimilation distortions is the finding that, in more than half of our experiments, a razor moves (in the telling) from a white man's hand to a Negro's hand (Fig. 1). This result is a clear instance of assimilation to stereotyped expectancy. Black men are "supposed" to carry razors, white men not.

Assimilation to Linguistic Habits

Expectency is often merely a matter of fitting perceived and remembered material to preexisting cliches, which exert a powerful influence in the conventionalization of rumors.
Words often arouse compelling familiar images in the listener's mind and fix for him the categories in which he must think of the event and the value that he must attach to it.

Assimilation to Prejudice

...the rumor, though mischievous, may reflect chiefly an assimilation of the story to verbal-cliches and conventional expectation. Distortion in this case may not mean assimilation to hostility. Much so-called prejudice is, of course, a mere matter of conforming to current folkways by accepting prevalent beliefs about an out-group.
.....even under laboratory conditions, we find assimilation in terms of deep-lying emotional predispositions. Our rumors, like those of everyday life, tend to fit into, and support, the occupational interests, class or racial memberships, or personal prejudices of the reporter.

Conclusion, the Embedding Process

Leveling, sharpening, and assimilation are not independent mechanisms. They function simultaneously, and reflect a singular subjectifying process that results in the autism and falsification which are so characteristic of rumor. If we were to attempt to summarize what happens in a few words we might say:

[ Whenever a stimulus field is of potential importance to an individual, but at the same time unclear, or susceptible of divergent interpretations, a subjective structuring process is started. Although the process is complex (involving, as it does, leveling, sharpening, and assimilation), its essential nature can be characterized as an effort to reduce the stimulus to a simple and meaningful structure that has adaptive significance for the individual in terms of his own interests and experience. The process begins at the moment the ambiguous situation is perceived, but the effects are greatest if memory intervenes. The longer the time that elapses after the stimulus is perceived the greater the threefold change is likely to be, until the rumor has reached an aphoristic brevity, and is repeated rote. ]

Now, this three-pronged process turns out to be characteristic not only of rumor but of the individual memory function as well. It has been uncovered and described in the experiments of Wulf, Gibson, Allport, and, in Barlett's memory experiments carried out both on individuals and on groups.
For the lack of a better designation, we speak of the three-fold change as the embedding process. What seems to occur in all our experiments and in all related studies is that each subject find the outer stimulus-world far too hard to grasp and retain in its objective character. For his own personal uses, it must be recast to fit not only his own span of retention, but, likewise, his own personal needs and interests. What was outer becomes inner; what was objective becomes subjective. In telling a rumor, the kernal of objective information that he received has become so embedded into his own dynamic mental life that the product is chiefly one of projection.
CIA runs mainstream media since WWII:
news rooms, movies/TV, publishing
Disney is CIA for kidz!
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Postby brainpanhandler » Sat Dec 27, 2008 4:02 pm


(Published in THE PUBLIC OPINION QUARTERLY, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 1965, pp. 54-70)



In the course of a normal conversation many points are made more than once. In addition, the language is itself redundant. Claude E. Shannon of the Bell Telephone Laboratories has estimated that ordinary written English is 75 or 80 per cent redundant. (27) The effect of this redundancy is usually to make the message more clear, and to eliminate some of the problems caused by noise.

Except for the natural redundancy of language, past experiments on rumor transmission do not have redundancies. Part of the experimental control is that A tells B the message and B at once has to tell it to C. B cannot ask for a clarification of the message before he has to pass it on. The effect of this approach is to maximize the noise introduced at each repetition. This is very unlike a normal situation, where interacting individuals talk over a rumor. In a face-to-face conversation a person hears a rumor and asks for a clarification of message or source if he does not understand it. Individuals in interactive situations are seldom passive receivers. If a word or phrase is not clear from the context in which it is given, the speaker will often realize that his listener is not understanding, and will rephrase his statement. Even if the speaker does not realize that he is being misunderstood, the listener will frequently realize that he is misunderstanding and will ask for a clarification.

Furthermore, in this situation both individuals have the possibility of working out together, each using his specialized knowledge, a consensus on the meaning of the message or rumor. Except in situations where the speaker is seen by the listener to have a psychological investment in the rumor, and tact forbids the listener from raising an objection, this clarification probably takes place.

In a situation where a rumor is a topic of conversation and speculation, where nothing is known for sure about it, interaction will produce a modified Gestalt at every discussion of the rumor.

If one person is able to exercise critical ability with regard to a rumor, he will be able to correct the other, unless the other is so strongly convinced of the veracity of his tale, or has such a strong need to believe it, that no amount of proof will shake his belief. When I was told that "Jesus Christ is a flying saucer pilot," there was nothing I could say that would have changed the speaker's mind. He and I reached no consensus on the rumor.

There is another type of redundancy besides that brought about by the normal interplay of an interactive situation. This is the redundancy of repetition. In a laboratory experiment, the subject is told the rumor only once, by one person. In a normal community setting, he would probably hear the rumor more than once. He might hear it twice from the same person with some minor variation or clarification, or he might hear it from several people. This situation differs qualitatively from the single interaction, as the individual has already assumed one of the "sets" toward the rumor, and he has information of one kind or another. Whereas in a single interaction the individual has to rely on his "background" knowledge to exercise his critical ability, in repetitive interaction he has substantive knowledge. The substantive knowledge may be right or wrong, but it places him on a more equal footing with the next person to tell him a rumor. Instead of simply asking questions to draw out the meaning, he can give his own rumor. Instead of accepting he can raise objections, rightly or wrongly. At this point the truth or falsity of the rumor becomes important.


A little more complex (accurate?) model of rumor transmission.
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Martin Luther King Jr.
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Re: Basic Psychology of Rumor for Psych. Warfare

Postby MinM » Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:50 am


The return of "Castro did it" theory
by Jefferson Morley
March 22, 2012

...Which raises an obvious question: If this evidence is so compelling in 2012 why didn’t the CIA and FBI forward it to the Warren Commission for investigation back in 1964? The answer is found in the hundreds of thousands of new JFK documents forced into the public record in the 1990s. The CIA and FBI didn’t investigate what the DGI knew about Oswald in 1964 because any such inquiry would have revealed the curious role that the CIA itself played in the genesis of the “Castro did it” theory.

As I reported for Salon in 2003, within hours of JFK’s murder, an Agency student group in Miami was giving reporters evidence of Oswald’s pro-Castro ways. Declassified CIA records show that the group, Cuban Student Directorate, received $51,000/month from an undercover CIA officer running “psychological warfare” operations. The group’s revelations about Oswald’s public support for Castro in New Orleans generated scores of headlines across the country that linked Kennedy’s murder to a “Castroite.” When the Cuban students proclaimed in print the next day that Oswald and Castro were the “presumed assassins,” it was the first JFK conspiracy theory to reach public print. Whether Latell knows it or not, his book is a direct descendant of this CIA-funded operation... ... it_theory/
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