Chicken Tumours and a Fishy Revenge: Evidence for Emotional Content Bias in the Cumulative Recall of Urban Legends

Joseph M. Stubbersfield, Jamshid J. Tehrani, Emma G. Flynn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


This study used urban legends to examine the effects of a cognitive bias for content which evokes higher levels of emotion on cumulative recall. As with previous research into content biases, a linear transmission chain design was used. One-hundred and twenty participants, aged 16-52, were asked to read and then recall urban legends that provoked both high levels and low levels of emotion and were both positively and negatively valenced. The product of this recall was presented to the next participant in a chain of three generations. A significant effect of emotion level on transmission fidelity was found with high emotion legends being recalled with significantly greater accuracy than low emotion legends. The emotional valence of a legend was found not to have any effect on cumulative recall; thus emotional biases in recall go beyond disgust and can incorporate other emotions such as amusement, interest and surprise. This study is the first to examine an emotion bias in cultural transmission as a general phenomenon without focusing on the emotion of disgust.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-26
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Cognition and Culture
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 8 Feb 2017


  • cultural evolution
  • cultural transmission
  • emotional content bias
  • folklore
  • urban legend

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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