Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

RECOGNIZE: A Social Norms Campaign to Reduce Rumor Spreading in a Junior High School

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

RECOGNIZE: A Social Norms Campaign to Reduce Rumor Spreading in a Junior High School

Article excerpt

This article studied changes in rumor spreading and perceptions of peers' rumor spreading among students at one public junior high school following a social norms marketing campaign. Results of the study show that perceptions of peer rumor spreading fell following the campaign, but self-reports of rumor spreading did not decrease. Results suggest that a social norms marketing campaign conducted by a professional school counselor and delivered to students in a junior high can reduce misperceptions of negative social behaviors.


While most school counselors would agree that rumor spreading is part of the adolescent experience, a review of the literature reveals that gossip or rumor spreading is connected to bullying behavior and is thus detrimental to students and academic achievement (Beale, 2001; Eisenberg & Aalsma, 2005; Hall, 2006; Unnever & Cornell, 2003). Bullying is defined as negative actions and behaviors intended to inflict psychological harm, physical injury, or discomfort upon another who does not have equal social status or power (Olweus, 1993; Smith, 1991; Smith & Sharp, 1994). Bullying behaviors include overt aggression such as teasing, name calling, and physical pushing or hitting, as well as indirect or relational bullying such as social exclusion and rumor spreading (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Dennis, 1999; Janssen, Craig, Boyce, & Pickett, 2004; Nansel et al., 2001; Shapiro, Baumeister, & Kessler, 1991).

All types of bullying behavior are of critical importance to school counselors for a number of reasons. It is estimated that up to three-quarters of young adolescents experience some type of bullying (Eisenberg & Aalsma, 2005; Hoover, Oliver, & Hazier, 1992). Bullying behaviors, from teasing and rumor spreading to physical fights, tend to peak in early adolescence and to decrease in frequency as adolescence progresses (Eisenberg & Aalsma; Nansel et al., 2001; Whitney & Smith, 1993). In particular, indirect aggression such as gossiping, rumors, and social exclusion increases with age and cognitive skills, making this form of bullying more prevalent among 12- to 15-year-olds than among younger children (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992; Nansel et al.; Rivers & Smith, 1994).

Bullying prevention and intervention are crucial concerns for middle school and junior high counselors because these behaviors peak during these years and they are associated with a variety of negative consequences. Victims of overt verbal harassment and psychological bullying (teasing, ridicule, exclusion, rumors, and name calling) experience a variety of negative psychological consequences, including anxiety, anger, embarrassment, loneliness, depression, low self-esteem, and relational deterioration (Boivin & Hymel, 1997; Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2000; Nansel et al., 2001). In addition, bullying is also associated with increased substance use and decreased academic performance (Furlong, Sharma, & Rhee, 2000; Nansel et al.).

Rumor spreading may have similar negative consequences as other forms of verbal harassment, and its impact extends beyond the individual being targeted because of the involvement of peers in the harassment. With indirect aggression, the perpetrator does not insult, tease, or attack the victim directly; rather he or she harasses the victim through the peer group by spreading false rumors, gossiping, or excluding the victim (Bjorkqvist et al., 1992; Garandeau & Cillessen, 2006; Owens, Shute, & Slee, 2004). The very nature of rumor spreading touches many students, whose sense of security in the school may be threatened by seeing and hearing other students being teased or insulted (Beale, 2001; Hall, 2006; Jeffrey, 2004; Nansel et al., 2001; Slaby, 2005). In order to prevent the negative consequences of rumor spreading and bullying among early adolescents, school counselors "are encouraged to assess the unique needs of their schools and work collaboratively to design and implement programs that will help create and reinforce safe environments for all students" (Milsom & Gallo, 2006, p. …

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