In 2013 I took the time to collect some data about the spread of a story about Oreo cookies. According to it, scientists demonstrated that Oreo cookies are as much, or possibly more, addictive than cocaine. The story spread and faded very quickly, in a couple of days in October 2013, but was reported by hundreds of English language media outlets, including prominent ones such as the Huffington Post or the Guardian.
I am almost leaving after few intense days at the Second Moscow-Tartu Late Summer School on Digital Humanities, where I was invited to give a talk about my research on the cultural dynamics of emotion in fiction (see two papers here and here), and more recently in song lyrics (no paper yet – a blog post documenting the very beginning of the research is here).
I found, thanks to twitter-induced serendipity (others call it procrastination), the lyrics of the songs included in the annual Billboard Top-100 from 1965 to 2015 (i.e., considering a few missing, ~5,000 songs). You can find in GitHub, together with the raw data, some clarifications on how the data were collected, their limitations, etc. plus a pointer to a nice analysis already done.
The complexity of some cultural domains, such as technology, seems to be linked to population size. This makes intuitive sense: after all, we have iPhones and rockets, whereas hunter-gatherer societies do not. How does this work, however, for other, non-technological, cultural domains? Western stories are not more complex than Aboriginal Australians ones (I guess). What about religions, or kinship systems?
An interesting article from Thom Scott-Phillips has been recently published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture: A (Simple) Experimental Demonstration that Cultural Evolution is not Replicative but Reconstructive – and an Explanations of Why this Difference Matters.
The article describes an experiment that nicely illustrates (“make flesh” in the words of Scott-Phillips) a thought experiment proposed by Dan Sperber. Shortly, imagine a Chinese whispers game, in which chains of individuals have to reproduce two drawings. One is a familiar configuration (in the specific case, the first three letters of the latin alphabet), while the other one is a meaningless scribble (see the image below, from Scott-Phillips’ paper).