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Corpses, Maggots, Poodles and Rats: Emotional Selection Operating in Three Phases of Cultural Transmission of Urban Legends

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AbstractIn one conception of cultural evolution, the evolutionary success of cultural units that are transmitted from individual to individual is determined by forces of cultural selection. Here we argue that it is helpful to distinguish between several distinct phases of the transmission process in which cultural selection can operate, such as a choose-to-receive phase, an encode-and-retrieve phase, and a choose-to-transmit phase. Here we focus on emotional selection in cultural transmission of urban legends, which has previously been shown to operate in the choose-to-transmit phase. In a series of experiments we studied serial transmission of stories based on urban legends manipulated to be either high or low on disgusting content. Results supported emotional selection operating in all three phases of cultural transmission. Thus, the prevalence of disgusting urban legends in North America may be explained by emotional selection through a multitude of pathways.

Affiliations: 1: Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm UniversityWallenberglab., SE-10691 StockholmSchool of Education, Communication and Culture, Mälardalen UniversityVästeråsSweden; 2: Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution, Stockholm UniversityWallenberglab., SE-10691 StockholmSwedenDepartment of Psychology, University of SussexBrightonUK


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