Chicken Tumours and a Fishy Revenge: Evidence for Emotional Content Bias in the Cumulative Recall of Urban Legends

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
  • 2 Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
  • 3 Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture, School of Education/Department of Psychology, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
  • 4 * Corresponding author, e-mail: jmstubbersfield@gmail.com

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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 participant in a chain of three generations. A significant effect of emotion level on transmission fidelity was found with high emotion legends being recalled with significantly greater accuracy than low emotion legends. The emotional valence of a legend was found not to have any effect on cumulative recall; thus emotional biases in recall go beyond disgust and can incorporate other emotions such as amusement, interest and surprise. This study is the first to examine an emotion bias in cultural transmission as a general phenomenon without focusing on the emotion of disgust.

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