Department of Political Science

Individual Choose-to-Transmit Decisions Reveal Little Preference for Transmitting Negative or High-Arousal Content

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  • Florian van Leeuwen, Leiden University
  • ,
  • Nora Parren, University of Lyon, France
  • Helena Miton, Central European University, Hungary
  • Pascal Boyer, Washington University, St. Louis, United States

Research on social transmission suggests that people preferentially transmit information about threats and social interactions. Such biases might be driven by the arousal that is experienced as part of the emotional response triggered by information about threats or social relationships. The current studies tested whether preferences for transmitting threat-relevant information are consistent with a functional motive to recruit social support. USA residents were recruited for six online studies. Studies 1a and 1B showed that participants more often chose to transmit positive, low-arousal vignettes (rather than negative, high-arousal vignettes involving threats and social interactions). Studies 2A and 2B showed higher intentions to transmit emotional vignettes (triggering disgust, fear, anger, or sadness) to friends (rather than to strangers or disliked acquaintances). Study 4 showed a preference for transmitting stories that participants had modified and were therefore novel and unique. Studies 2A and 3 (but not Studies 2B and 4) suggest that motivations for seeking social support might influence transmission preferences. Overall, the findings are not easily accounted for by any of the major theories of social transmission. We discuss limitations of the current studies and directions for further research.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Cognition and Culture
Pages (from-to)124-153
Number of pages30
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018

    Research areas

  • anxiety, cultural transmission, negativity bias, social support, threat detection

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