Fact vs. Affect in the Telephone Game: All Levels of Surprise Are Retold With High Accuracy, Even Independently of Facts

Frontiers in Psychology 9:375712 (2018)
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Abstract

When people retell stories, what guides their retelling? Most previous research on story retelling and story comprehension has focused on information accuracy as the key measure of stability in transmission. This paper suggests that there is a second, affective, dimension that provides stability for retellings, namely the audience affect of surprise. In a large-sample study with multiple iterations of retellings, we found evidence that people are quite accurate in preserving all degrees of surprisingness in serial reproduction – even when the event that produced the surprisingness in the original story is dropped or changed. Thus, we propose that the preservation of affect is an implicit goal of retelling: not merely do retellers recall highly surprising events better, but rather they register all levels of surprisingness precisely and aim to surprise their implied audience to same degree. This study used 2,389 participants.

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