Content biases in three phases of cultural transmission: A review

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Cultural evolution theory proposes that information transmitted through social learning is not transmitted indiscriminately but is instead biased by heuristics and mechanisms which increase the likelihood that individuals will copy particular cultural traits based on their inherent properties (content biases) and copy the cultural traits of particular models, or under particular circumstances (context biases). Recent research suggests that content biases are as important, or more important, than context biases in the selection and faithful transmission of cultural traits. Here, evidence for biases for emotive, social, threat-related, stereotype consistent and counterintuitive content is reviewed, focusing on how these biases may operate across three phases of transmission: choose-to-receive, encode-and-retrieve, and choose-to-transmit. Support for some biases primarily functioning as biases of attention and memory, while others primarily function as biases of selection to share with others, and the implications for this in wider cultural evolution is discussed. Ultimately, a more consistent approach to examining content biases, and greater engagement with wider literature, is required for clear conclusions about their mechanism and potential differences across the three phases of transmission.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCulture and Evolution
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 30 May 2022

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