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The Watercooler Effect: A Psychologist…

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

by Nicholas DiFonzo

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The Watercooler Effect is a book about rumors: why rumors start, how and why they spread, why we believe them (or don’t), and how best to manage them. Rumor is an interesting premise, but DiFonzo doesn’t have enough material to sustain momentum for a full-length book. In short, rumors are “shared sensemaking”—that is, “the predominant means by which we make sense of the world together.” According to the Law of Rumor, “[r]umors abound in proportion to the ambiguity or uncertainty inherent in a situation, and the importance of the topic.” How does one avoid or quash rumors? By reducing uncertainty through improved communications. Now that I’ve revealed all the secrets, you don’t need to read the book. Over 200+ pages, the repetitions and common sense conclusions in The Watercooler Effect become tedious. This material would have made an engaging essay, but, unless you have an above-average interest in rumors, skip the book.

This review also appears on my blog Literary License. ( )
2 vote gwendolyndawson | Oct 21, 2008 |
Nicholas Di Fonzo’s The Watercooler Effect, while not my usual fare, turned out to be quite interesting. It is a thorough study of rumors, complete with the results of research that has gone into people’s fondness for rumor and its continued preponderance.
I was particularly fascinated with the clear differentiation between what is rumor and what is merely gossip, and the different ways in which the two are disseminated.
Prior to reading this book, I had never considered that rumors could have real value. They help to explain the unexplainable, they provide sources of information in situations of fear and they can be used to pass on information which people should have, but which can’t be seen to come from a particular source. The concept of rumor management also had me thinking.
Why people continue to pass on rumors without checking on the background facts (especially now with the proliferation of the Internet) is something I still don’t understand. I did appreciate the sources given for fact-checking of the rumors and urban legends that come our way every day via our email.
The examples provided throughout the book, along with the results of the studies done went a long way toward helping me understand the concepts involved. I would have preferred some more detail and cohesion to the examples however. They sometimes felt a little disjointed and truncated.
Far from a dry, boring report however, this book was wonderfully readable and very interesting and I think that anyone who wants a layman’s understanding about how rumors and gossip drive our daily interactions would enjoy reading it.
  sangreal | Sep 17, 2008 |
(review of an uncorrected proof) - This is an extremely timely book in light of the fact that the SEC is investigating whether any Wall Street bank was spreading rumors about Bear Stearns in an effort to drive its share price down. Author Nicholas DiFonzo (professor of psychology, Rochester Institute of Technology) has written a very readable study of rumors; easily accessible to the layperson.

DiFonzo starts by identifying three types of rumors: wish rumors, those concerning hoped-for outcomes (school will be canceled tomorrow because of snow); dread rumors, those concerning feared outcomes (such as the rumors surrounding the SARS virus in 2003); and wedge driving rumors, those that feed on hate and try to divide people (just about any rumors about political figures or ethnic groups fall into this category). He then shows examples of these rumor types and discusses how and why they are spread as well as how they die. His final chapter examines ways to manage rumor and slow the spread of false rumors.

The book includes extensive notes. The sources are well identified and would be easy for other researchers to follow. All-in-all, this is a very interesting book on a fascinating subject. ( )
  dulcibelle | Jul 31, 2008 |
How and why do rumors start? How powerful are they? How many of them are accurate? Nicholas DiFonzo answers some of these questions in The Watercooler Effect, a psychological study on rumors. I learned some things. For instance, rumors in the military are generally 99% accurate, because people are actually told things about troop movements and the effect “trickles down”. People create rumors when they are anxious about their situation because having an answer, even if it’s wildly wrong, is comforting to the human mind. Worst of all are email and internet rumors, as they are almost always wrong, so much so that groups of websites like snopes.com exist just to decry them.

Rumors can also have disastrous effects on businesses and people’s lives. DiFonzo uses some of these examples, too.

This book was definitely interesting. It isn’t something that I would necessarily have picked up on my own, but it kept my attention. DiFonzo’s writing is clear and concise. Most of what he gets across is common sense that takes some thinking about, so there is no grand reveal at the end, just some advice on how to avoid spreading the wrong rumors. I probably wouldn’t jump to recommend it and I probably won’t read it again, but I’m glad I did.

http://chikune.com/blog/?p=154 ( )
  littlebookworm | Jul 28, 2008 |
In "The Watercooler Effect" Nicholas DiFonzo sets out to explain why rumors happen, why people believe them, and how they can be managed. To do this, DiFonzo uses several examples of real life rumors and academic studies to explore the world of rumor.

This book was a quick and engaging read. Despite subject matter that could have been very dry, DiFonzo keeps the pace brisk and his tone light. My one quibble was that the brisk pace creates a lack of in-depth substance to the book. I felt it was more of an overview then a detailed look. That said, I would definitely recommend this to professors teaching intro level courses in communication, especially organizational or interpersonal communication. ( )
  Jthierer | Jul 23, 2008 |
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Shows that the process that gives rise to national rumors is fundamentally the same as those that arise around the company watercooler. Why do some rumors persist even in the fact of well-publicized facts to the contrary? Why do we pass on information without verifying that it's true?… (more)

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