<p>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: merely do retellers not 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.</p><p>Significance Statement: Story retelling is a process whereby cultural information is transmitted horizontally across social networks and vertically down generations. For the most part, retelling research has focused on the relevance and stability of factual information, “who did what, where, when, and why”; comparatively little is known about the transmission of affective information. We suggest that affect can serve as a second axis of stability for retelling, partially independent from factual information. In serial reproduction tasks modeled after the telephone game, we find that surprisingness of stories is well preserved across retellings – even when the facts and events of the story are not. The findings are significant for the communication of information, and thereby also the stability and transformation of culture in general.</p
To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.