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Prestige and content biases together shape the cultural transmission of narratives

Berl, Richard, Samarasinghe, Alarna, Roberts, Sean, Jordan, Fiona and Gavin, Michael 2021. Prestige and content biases together shape the cultural transmission of narratives. Evolutionary Human Sciences 3 , e42. 10.1017/ehs.2021.37

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Cultural transmission biases such as prestige are thought to have been a primary driver in shaping the dynamics of human cultural evolution. However, few empirical studies have measured the importance of prestige relative to other effects, such as content biases present within the information being transmitted. Here, we report the findings of an experimental transmission study designed to compare the simultaneous effects of a model using a high- or low-prestige regional accent with the presence of narrative content containing social, survival, emotional, moral, rational, or counterintuitive information in the form of a creation story. Results from multimodel inference reveal that prestige is a significant factor in determining the salience and recall of information, but that several content biases, specifically social, survival, negative emotional, and biological counterintuitive information, are significantly more influential. Further, we find evidence that reliance on prestige cues may serve as a conditional learning strategy when no content cues are available. Our results demonstrate that content biases serve a vital and underappreciated role in cultural transmission and cultural evolution.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISSN: 2513-843X
Funders: Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship ECF-2016–435
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 15 July 2021
Date of Acceptance: 13 July 2021
Last Modified: 24 Sep 2021 11:22

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