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Title: From storytelling to Facebook. Content biases when retelling or sharing a story
Authors: Acerbi, A
Keywords: cultural transmission;cultural evolution;transmission chain experiments;cultural attraction;content biases;digital media
Issue Date: 30-Apr-2022
Publisher: Springer Nature
Citation: Acerbi, A. (2022) 'From storytelling to Facebook: Content biases when retelling or sharing a story,' Human Nature: an interdisciplinary biosocial perspective, 33 (2), pp. 132 - 144 (13). doi: 10.1007/s12110-022-09423-1.
Abstract: Copyright © 2022 The Author. Purpose: Cultural evolution researchers use transmission chain experiments to investigate which content is more likely to survive when transmitted from one individual to another. These experiments resemble oral storytelling, where individuals need to understand, memorise, and reproduce the content. However, prominent contemporary forms of cultural transmission—think an online sharing—onlyinvolve the willingness to transmit the content. Here I present two fully preregistered online experiments that explicitly investigated the differences between these two modalities of transmission. Methods: The first experiment (N=1,080participants from UK) examined whether negative content, information eliciting disgust, and threat-related information were better transmitted than their neutral counterpart in a traditional transmission chain set-up. The second experiment (N=1,200participants from UK) used the same material, but participants were asked whether they would share or not the content in two conditions: in a large anonymous social network, or with their friends, in their favourite social network. Results: Negative content was both better transmitted in transmission chain experiments and shared more than its neutral counterpart. Threat-related information was successful in transmission chain experiments but not when sharing, and, finally, information eliciting disgust was not advantaged in either. Conclusions: Overall, the results present a composite picture, suggesting that the interactions between the specific content and the medium of transmission are important and, possibly, that content biases are stronger when memorisation and reproduction are involved in the transmission—like in oral transmission—than when they are not—like in online sharing.Negative content seems to be reliably favoured in both modalities of transmission
Description: Availability of data and material: All anonymised data and material to reproduce the results described in the manuscript are available in an OSF repository online at: The experiments were fully preregistered. Preregistration available at: Code availability: The code to analyse the data is available in an OSF repository online at:
Ethics declarations: Ethics approval for the study was granted by the College of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences Research Ethics Committee of Brunel University London (ref: 24117-MHR-Sep/2020–27910-2).
Supplementary Information: link to the electronic supplementary material: supplementary file1 available at: (PDF 253 KB)
ISSN: 1045-6767
Appears in Collections:Brunel OA Publishing Fund
Brunel Design School Research Papers

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