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.
MesoudiA.WhitenA.The multiple roles of cultural transmission experiments in understanding human cultural evolutionPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences200836334893501
StubbersfieldJ.M.TehraniJ.J.FlynnE.G.Cognitive evolution and the transmission of popular narratives: a literature review and application to urban legendsEvolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culturein press