A bias for social information in human cultural transmission


Evolutionary theories concerning the origins of human intelligence suggest that cultural transmission might be biased toward social over non-social information. This was tested by passing social and non-social information along multiple chains of participants. Experiment 1 found that gossip, defined as information about intense third-party social relationships, was transmitted with siginificantly greater accuracy and in significantly greater quantity than equivalent non-social information concerning individual behaviour or the physical environment. Experiment 2 replicated this finding controlling for narrative coherence, and additionally found that information concerning everyday non-gossip social interactions was transmitted just as well as the intense gossip interactions. It was therefore concluded that human cultural transmission is biased toward information concerning social interactions over equivalent non-social information.

British Journal of Psychology 97, 405–423. https://doi.org/10.1348/000712605X85871