Professor Ralph Rosnow describes rumours as public communications infused with private hypotheses about how the world works. Rosnow theorises that rumour mongering is as an attempt to deal with uncertainty by generating and handing on stories that explain, address anxieties and provide a rationale for behaviour.
There are two broad types of rumours: those invoking desired consequences (wish rumours) and those invoking feared consequences (dread rumours). People tend to spread rumours they perceive as credible although, when anxieties are intense, rumour mongers are less likely to monitor the plausibility of what they pass on.
Air Force Captain Stephanie Kelley, for a Master's thesis in 2004, did a content analysis of 966 rumours collected in Iraq from the Baghdad Mosquito - an intelligence document published daily by the US military to chronicle "the latest street talk … however ill founded, bizarre or malevolent”.
Proceeding from the idea that rumours serve as a window into people's uncertainties and anxieties, Captain Kelley identified fears inhibiting cooperation with US counterinsurgency efforts and formulated ideas for improving Coalition information campaigns. Read more about rumours and gossip here.