The Hierarchical Transformation of Event Knowledge in Human Cultural Transmission

Journal of Cognition and Culture 4 (1):1-24 (2004)
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Abstract

There is extensive evidence that adults, children, and some non-human species, represent routine events in the form of hierarchically structured 'action scripts,' and show superior recall and imitation of information at relatively high-levels of this hierarchy. Here we investigate the hypothesis that a 'hierarchical bias' operates in human cultural transmission, acting to impose a hierarchical structure onto descriptions of everyday events, and to increasingly describe those events in terms of higher hierarchical levels. Descriptions of three everyday events expressed entirely in terms of basic low-level actions were transmitted along ten chains each containing four adult human participants. It was found that the proportion of low-level information showed a significant linear decrease with transmission generation, while the proportions of medium- and high-level information showed significant linear increases, consistent with the operation of a hierarchical bias. The findings additionally provide support for script theory in general, and are discussed in relation to hierarchical imitation in non-human primates.

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