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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Transmission and Persistence of`'Urban Legends': Sociological Application of Age-Structured Epidemic Models

  • Author(s): Noymer, Andrew
  • et al.

This paper describes two related epidemic models of rumor transmission in an age-structured population. Rumors share with communicable disease certain basic aspects, which means that formal models of epidemics may be applied to the transmission of rumors. The results show that rumors may become entrenched very quickly and persist for a long time, even when skeptics are modeled to take an active role in trying to convince others that the rumor is false. This is a macrophenomeon, because individuals eventually cease to believe the rumor, but are replaced by new recruits. This replacement of former believers by new ones is an aspect of all the models, but the approach to stability is quicker, and involves smaller chance of extinction, in the model where skeptics actively try to counter the rumor, as opposed to the model where interest is naturally lost by believers. Skeptics hurt their own cause. The result shows that including age, or a variable for which age is a proxy (e.g. experience), can improve model _delity and yield important insights.

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