Which urban legends are true

Urban legends: 10 myths and why we believe them

Heard already? Elvis has been kidnapped by aliens, crocodiles live in the New York canal system, and in your potted plant is a poisonous spider from overseas ... This is the stuff that urban legends are made of. There are modern fairy tales, legends and myths that - thanks to the Internet - are spread and spread in different versions. Of course, nobody knows the exact facts or details. But at least it sounds plausible. Besides, it was told by a friend of a friend of a friend. Then it has to be right ...

But not true. Urban legends are mostly pure humbug. But well packaged, repeated many times, and just too good to be wrong. And that is exactly what makes urban legends extremely dangerous, as studies show ...

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➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Definition: What are Urban Legends?

Urban legends are bizarre anecdotes, curiosities, big city legends, horror stories, old wives' tales, modern myths or rumors, which are mostly spread verbally, via email or messenger, but above all via social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc.). As a rule, the source can be verified just as little as the truthfulness. Even the protagonists remain anonymous. It is almost always hair-raising nonsense. Nevertheless, we believe these stories - because they are told by an acquaintance who in turn knows it from a friend of a friend (in English they are therefore also referred to as "FOAF tales" - "Friend of a friend tales").

Urban legends can spread mainly thanks to insufficient research and our passion for word of mouth. It is human nature to tell stories and spread rumors - the main thing is that they are exciting, horrible or otherwise give the listener a kick. That not only makes it worth telling, but also enhances the narrator.

Why do urban legends spread so well?

The postmodern hiking legends not only work through the silent post principle, which usually adds adventurous embellishments to them. Urban legends live mainly from repetition. Not least because they appeal to strong emotions such as fear, anger, disgust, prejudice.

For example, studies by Norbert Schwarz, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, based on a study by the two psychologists Floyd Allport and Milton Lepkin in 1945 come to this conclusion. They already found out at the time that people, for example, believed more false war propaganda the more often they heard it. Quote:

The traditional assumption is that urban legends are encountered by correcting the wrong facts. However, new psychological studies show that the associated repetition of the false news tends to lead to polarization and deepen the myths. Clever manipulators can derive enormous advantages from this mechanics of our brain.

False reports ("hoax"), half-truths and conspiracy theories often make use of the principle. Unfortunately. Because the scientific findings clearly show how little it is to replace false news (so-called "fake news") with correct ones, because one inevitably repeats the legend.

It can be just as dangerous to defend oneself against rumors and defamation as long as one repeats the negative information (see box “Streisand effect”). The only effect is that the nonsense sticks even more in the mind and after a certain time is remembered as true by our memory.

What somehow sounds plausible, people like to take at face value. The main thing is that many others see it the same way. At this point, our gray cells work a bit like the Internet: Once inside, you can hardly get the data out. That is not just negligent in our upper room. Unfortunately, it also makes us susceptible to manipulation.

Streisand effect: the snowball principle of resistance

The Streisand effect is an internet phenomenon. Trying to remove negative information about yourself on the web can lead to it - through so-called reflections and quotations - being spread even more. The effect actually owes its name to the singer Barbra Streisand, who at the time sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and the website Pictopia.com for 50 million US dollars because an aerial view of her house was to be found there among 12,000 other photos of the coast of California. Through the lawsuit, however, Streisand first established a connection between himself and the building shown, whereupon the photo spread even more on the Internet according to the snowball principle, motto: Now we officially know where and how Barbra Streisand lives ...

How can you recognize urban legends?

The spider in the yucca palm; the mouse in the jumbo jet; the chicken with the leg in plaster - such big city myths or hiking legends are by no means a phenomenon of modern times. When the Brothers Grimm put together their fairy tales, they did it no differently: They collected stories that people liked to tell each other and often. And often for the same reasons. Numerous urban legends can be recognized from these even today:

1. Timeless message

The story behind the story often contains a timeless moral. As a rule, it is intended to warn us of dangers or stupidities. Or talk about everyday insanity.

2. Many variants

Hiking legends are repeated over the decades, changed, embellished and updated in the process. Accordingly, there are countless variants of it. This is also treacherous: the truth has only one version.

3. Inaccurate source

Urban legends are almost never based on verifiable facts, but solely on hearsay. The source remains vague, to underline the credibility it is often sufficient to refer to an acquaintance of an acquaintance to whom this really happened.

4. Appeal to feelings

Modern legends primarily address our feelings: fears, disgust, prejudices, hopes, wishes. Because they fit so comfortably into our worldview at the same time, they are only too gladly believed and rumored.

5. Safe telling

Anyone who tells an exciting story told by a friend of a friend who knows someone to whom this has happened does not have to fear that they will end up as a fool. The narrator can still distance himself from the content. When in doubt, the friend's friend is the idiot. The legend always remains amusing.

Urban legends versus conspiracy theories

Urban legends differ from conspiracy theories in their distance from the story. While conspiracy theories fit into one's own view of the world and are therefore carried on with conviction, the storyteller remains neutral: "I heard ... but no guarantee."

Urban Legends List: 10 Modern Legends

Basically, modern, urban myths - or: "Urban Legends" - are narratives that could be true, but do not take it too seriously with (historical) accuracy or factual facts. Instead, they plausibly interweave reality and fiction without being able to be refuted at the same time.

You can read up on many of these myths on the Internet (for example HERE). These are among the 10 most famous modern legends - and all of them are completely fictional, never happened and thus stories from the realm of fairy tales:

The cat in the microwave

An American woman comes up with the idea of ​​putting her cat in the microwave to dry. The poor animal dies miserably, whereupon the woman sued the manufacturer for damages in the millions. After all, there was nowhere a warning that animals should not be put in the microwave. The woman wins the process - and is now a millionaire with a new cat.

The woman at the bus stop

A woman has been standing at the same tram stop or intersection for years. A long time ago she let her husband get off there. He wanted to come back, but never did. Now she is waiting there for her husband - every day, every evening.

The needle in the cinema seat

Allegedly in Cologne, a cinema-goer is said to have stung something sharp in the cinema seat. When he looks for the cause, he finds a needle in the seat and a piece of paper that says: "Welcome to the club, you have just been infected with HIV."

Revenge through a hidden message

When the band “Pink Floyd” recorded their album “The Wall”, there was a certain Helmut Schlosser from Germany among the producers. He was previously the principal of a boys' boarding school and had abused some students in the attic there. In the corridors of the boarding school, it was said: “He's going to get you under the roof again.” When Schlosser was mixing the album, especially the song “Another brick in the wall”, he noticed a hidden message in the text: When the youth choir “All in all it's just another brick in the wall "sings, the German words" Hol him, get him under the roof "can be clearly heard. Schlosser realizes that his past has caught up with him. He hanged himself in the attic that evening.

The dog meal in the Chinese restaurant

A couple goes to a Chinese restaurant with a small dog. However, the waitress only speaks Chinese there. Because it was a hot day and the dog is thirsty, the couple tries to make it clear to the waiter that the dog needs a bowl of water. The waiter nods with a smile and takes the dog with him. A short time later he returns with an opulent meal that smells delicious. The couple asks what it is, and the waitress explains: “That’s a dog.” The story is said to be found on a record sleeve (“Thick as a Brick”) by Jethro Tull - including a newspaper clipping with this story.

The spiders in the head

A woman returns from vacation in the Amazon. There, however, she was stung on the head by some insect. The sting grows into a bump. The woman therefore seeks a doctor. He is surprised that the bump seems to be moving and opens it carefully. A spider's nest with lots of small spiders has formed underneath ...

The dancing policemen

When police officers stop a drunk driver, he becomes abusive and brutal. Unfortunately for one of the policemen that becomes too colorful and he slaps the driver in the face. Now he is threatened with a supervisory procedure. To avoid this, the police officers get the idea to put a few traffic cones on their heads and dance around the drunk driver. The idea: if he tells his story, it sounds so unbelievable that no one believes the rest of them either. And so it happens: At the hearing, the judge has to laugh heartily - and the proceedings against the police officers are closed.

The sperm on the pizza

A man gets hungry in the evening and orders a pizza. Because she's not there even after an hour, he calls the pizza parlor with an angry breath and yells at the boss. He apologizes and promises to bring a free pizza straight away. This is also coming. But the next morning the man wakes up with a painful rash on his mouth. He takes it to the doctor and he diagnoses syphilis. When the man then had the pizza box examined, it turned out that it contained sperm from an infected person (presumably the cook).

The dangerous hitchhiker

A young, attractive woman is standing on the side of the road and wants to be picked up by one of the passing cars. A young man stops and takes her away. To his astonishment, the pretty girl begins to flirt with him stormily. So she guides him to the next motel, where the two of them first have a drink and then have sex. However, the man falls asleep. When he woke up in pain the next morning, he was missing a kidney.

The dead man at the desk

The story of George Turklebaum even made it into the media - from the London Times to BBC radio. Apparently Turklebaum sat dead at his desk in the open-plan office for five days - without his colleagues noticing. Later it turned out: It was just a macabre joke by the US satirical magazine "Weekly World News".

Scary stories on the net

"Creepypasta" are the names of scary stories that are spread particularly often via the Internet and by copy & paste. The web shockers are mostly about cursed files, emails or mysterious or supernatural beings.

The danger of urban legends

“Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam!” - “Incidentally, I am of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed!” The sentence with which Cato Censorius supposedly ended all his speeches (even if it was not about Carthage at all) is supposed to be led to the Third Punic War and thus to the actual destruction of Carthage. To this day it is regarded as a historical example that repetition is more powerful than any truth - as long as you persist in expressing it.

Repetitions can do even more: They overcome majorities and truths. And that is a great danger of “urban legends” and “fake news”, which work exactly according to this principle. Because the messages conveyed are so easily believed, they can reinforce prejudices or even create new suspicions (towards marginalized groups and minorities).

What's more, what psychologist Kimberlee Weaver from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found out in her studies could even change the way you view meetings and teams ...

In summary, the result is: Whoever yells the loudest and tells the same thing often enough, will be right in the end. To put it more finely: Weaver was able to show that three people are enough to manipulate the opinion of an entire group, as long as the three unanimously and independently of one another hold the same opinion.

That alone would not have been groundbreaking. But Weaver also found that even a single person achieves 90 percent of this effect if they repeat the same opinion (preferably their own) only three times. The effect: at some point our brain stops distinguishing from whom the statement comes - whether from three different people or the same person does not matter. Because it has been said often enough, it sticks in, catches and ultimately convinces us.

This knowledge can be used either way: It enables targeted manipulation (for example during an election campaign) just as it protects us from being too persistent repeat offenders in the meeting.

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