The sky is falling: evidence of a negativity bias in the social transmission of information

Keely Bebbington, Colin MacLeod, T. Mark Ellison, Nicolas Fay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The method of serial reproduction has revealed that the social transmission of information is characterized by the gradual transformation of the original message. This transformation results from the preferential survival of certain types of information and the resolution of ambiguity. Here we present evidence of a bias favoring the social transmission of negatively-valenced information across multiple transmission episodes. Ninety-two, four-person chains transmitted a story containing unambiguously positive and unambiguously negative story events, along with ambiguous story events that could be interpreted positively or negatively. Analysis using mixed-effects modeling revealed the preferential survival of unambiguously negative events over positive events, and the increasingly negative resolution of ambiguous events across successive transmission episodes. Contrary to predictions, elevated state anxiety did not enhance the social transmission of negatively-valenced information. We also found that the survival of unambiguously negative story events was positively correlated with the negative resolution of ambiguous story events, reflecting a general negativity-bias in the social transmission of information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-101
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume38
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

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