Prestige and content biases together shape the cultural transmission of narratives.

Richard Berl, Alarna N Samarasinghe, Sean G Roberts, Fiona M Jordan, Michael C Gavin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Context-based 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 the content biases present within transmitted information. Here, we report the findings of an experimental transmission study designed to compare the simultaneous effects of a high- or low-prestige model with the presence of content containing social, survival, emotional, moral, rational, or counterintuitive information. Results from multimodel inference reveal that prestige is a significant factor in determining salience and recall, but that several content biases, specifically social, survival, negative emotional, and biological counterintuitive information, are significantly more influential. Further, we find evidence that prestige serves 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.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Aug 2020


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