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Cognitive evolution and the transmission of popular narratives : a literature review and application to urban legends.

Published on Jun 1, 2017
· DOI :10.26613/esic/1.1.20
Joseph M. Stubbersfield4
Estimated H-index: 4
(Durham University),
Emma Flynn23
Estimated H-index: 23
(Durham University),
Jamshid J. Tehrani11
Estimated H-index: 11
(Durham University)
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Abstract
Recent research into cultural transmission suggests that humans are disposed to learn, remember, and transmit certain types of information more easily than others, and that any information that is passed between people will be subjected to cognitive selective pressures that alter the content and structure so as to make it maximally transmittable. This paper presents a review of emerging research on content biases in cultural evolution with relevance to the transmission of popular narratives. This is illustrated with content analysis of urban legends, which found that most exploited at least one known content bias, with emotional information and social information being the most frequent. We argue that the narratives do not succeed because of the transmission of adaptively relevant information but because of their exploitation of content biases in human cognition. Keywords: urban legends, content biases, cognitive biases, cultural evolution, cultural transmission
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  • Citations (4)
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#2Sacha Altay (EHESS: School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences)
Social media like Facebook are harshly criticized for the propagation of health misinformation. Yet, little research has provided in-depth analysis of real-world data to measure the extent to which Internet users engage with it. This article examines 6.5 million interactions generated by 500 posts on an emblematic case of online health misinformation: the Facebook page Sante + Mag, which generates five times more interactions than the combination of the five best-established French media outlets...
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#1Joseph M. Stubbersfield (Durham University)H-Index: 4
#2Lewis G. Dean (St And: University of St Andrews)H-Index: 4
Last. Catharine P. Cross (St And: University of St Andrews)H-Index: 10
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Moral stories are pervasive in human culture, forming the basis of religious texts, folklore, and newspaper articles. We used a linear transmission chain procedure to test three competing hypotheses: (1) that moral content in general is preferentially transmitted between individuals compared to non-moral content; (2) that negativity bias leads specifically to morally bad content being preferentially transmitted; and (3) that a bias towards pro-social information leads specifically to morally goo...
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#1Alberto Acerbi (TU/e: Eindhoven University of Technology)H-Index: 15
The spread of online misinformation has gained mainstream attention in recent years. This paper approaches this phenomenon from a cultural evolution and cognitive anthropology perspective, focusing on the idea that some cultural traits can be successful because their content taps into general cognitive preferences. This research involves 260 articles from media outlets included in two authoritative lists of websites known for publishing hoaxes and ‘fake news’, tracking the presence of negative c...
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#1Ángel V. Jiménez (University of Exeter)H-Index: 1
#2Joseph M. Stubbersfield (Durham University)H-Index: 4
Last. Jamshid J. Tehrani (Durham University)H-Index: 11
view all 3 authors...
Abstract Rationale. Although vaccines are an invaluable weapon in combatting diseases, they are often surrounded by controversy. Vaccine controversies usually arise with the claims of some parents or doctors who link vaccines to harmful outcomes. These controversies often negatively affect vaccination coverage. Objectives This experiment simulated a vaccine controversy to understand which content features of vaccination-related information are well transmitted and how this transmission affects v...
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#1Joseph M. Stubbersfield (Durham University)H-Index: 4
#2Jamshid J. Tehrani (Durham University)H-Index: 11
Last. Emma Flynn (Durham University)H-Index: 23
view all 3 authors...
This study used urban legends to examine the effects of a cognitive bias for content which evokes higher levels of emotion on cumulative recall. As with previous research into content biases, a linear transmission chain design was used. One-hundred and twenty participants, aged 16–52, were asked to read and then recall urban legends that provoked both high levels and low levels of emotion and were both positively and negatively valenced. The product of this recall was presented to the next parti...
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