The Gossip Factor

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Updated on Jun 14, 2013

Grade Level: 5th - 10th; Type: Psychology

To find out how much a story changes as it is passed around for a day.

The purpose of this experiment is to examine human memory by observing how well individuals can remember a story they were told and also how accurately they can pass that story along.

  • What components of a story are the most difficult for most people to remember?
  • What components of a story are the easiest for people to remember?
  • What makes a story memorable?
  • In what ways do people change a story as they retell it?
  • For what reasons might a person chose to retell a story?

Gossip and rumors are a part of community interaction. Much of our time is spent discussing others, whether they are celebrities, fictional characters from television or movies or fellow classmates. Most people don’t take too much stock in gossip, though they will often listen attentively to the gossip while it’s being told to them. We enjoy hearing about others in part because the primate brain is preoccupied with status in the community. Primates of all types focus a great deal of time and energy on interacting with each other and maintaining or improving their social condition. If it is possible for a primate to move up in the ranks, knowing which other primate might be about to move down a notch is valuable information to have. But gossip and rumor are often not correct information, as the ability to listen to gossip is better developed than the ability to accurately remember it.

  • A number of willing volunteers.

  1. Gather together a group of at least 8 volunteers and no more than 14 volunteers.

  2. Decide on an order for the group to go in (who will tell the story to whom).

  3. Alert your teachers to the experiment. Many teachers monitor school yard gossip so be sure that your teachers know that the gossip in your experiment is made up.

  4. As the first person in the chain, your role is to come up with a story about another person. This person should be fictional and should NOT share a name with a person in your school. Any names that appear in your gossip story should not be shared by real life classmates.

  5. Invent a story that is unusual but not unbelievable.

  6. Write your story down. It should be at least a couple of paragraphs long, but not more than about a page.

  7. At school, find the next person in the chain.

  8. Take that person aside and read them the story only once.

  9. That person waits at least 15 minutes.

  10. At the end of the wait period, they tell the story to the next person in the chain.

  11. Repeat in this fashion until the last person in the chain receives the story.

  12. That person then writes down the story that they were told.

  13. Compare the story you came up with to the once the last person in the chain remembered. Your friends may want to see the results as well.

Terms/Concepts: Gossip; Rumor; Memory; Storytelling; Adapt; Evolving Story; the game “Telephone”


Writer and educator Crystal Beran is rarely seen without a pen. Her adventures have brought her to four continents and her quest for answers has led her to discover more questions than she could fill all the pages with. She currently resides in Northern California, where she can be found sipping tea and writing books.

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