Serial killers, spiders and cybersex: Social and survival information bias in the transmission of urban legends.

 

Illustration by: Isabella Hoskins

Abstract by: Kelly Robinson

Original paper: Stubbersfield, J. M., Tehrani, J. J., & Flynn, E. G. (2015). Serial killers, spiders and cybersex: Social and survival information bias in the transmission of urban legends. British Journal of Psychology, 106(2), 288-307.

 

If you want to find out more, here is the paper!

“In a normal day, you can hear or read hundreds of pieces of information from friends, on television or online, but how does your mind prioritise which bits to remember and which bits to forget? It is thought that humans are better at remembering certain types of information than others, otherwise our brains would try to store every random fact we hear. Theories say that people have evolved to be especially good at taking in and recalling information to do with survival, like road safety rules, and to do with social relationships, like which of our friends have fallen out recently. Joseph Stubbersfield and colleagues investigated which types of information humans remember best and then pass on to others correctly by getting a group of people to talk about urban legends. They found that legends that contain survival information (like certain foods causing cancer), social information (like inappropriate relationships occurring online), or both (like what tricks serial killers use to trap victims) were remembered much better than information on topics with no social or survival aspects (like how high a famous mountain is). By studying what information we naturally are biased towards remembering and passing on, we can better understand how information is spread across groups, communities or nations of people.

 

Contact the illustrator

Isabella Hoskins

 

Contact the researcher

Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield

 

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