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Operationalization of Meme Selection Criteria: Methodologies to Empirically Test Memetic Predictions

By Klaas Chielens and Francis Heylighen


This paper reviews a number of recent approaches to put memetics to the test of quantitative measurability. The focus is on the selection criteria for the spreading of memes put forward by Heylighen (1997), which include utility, novelty, simplicity, coherence, authority and proselytism. The general hypothesis is that memes scoring higher on these criteria will survive longer and be more prevalent than others. This can be tested by checking which story elements best survive a chain of person-toperson transmissions ("Chinese whispers " game), by simulating the cognitive and social processes that determine this differential survival and spread, and by correlating the score on the selection criteria with the actual frequency with which a meme is encountered. In a pilot study using an Internet survey, this method was applied specifically to virus hoaxes, which can be seen as paradigmatic examples of clearly delimited, self-reproducing messages.

Year: 2010
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