Human Nature

, 7:403 | Cite as

On the origins of narrative

Storyteller bias as a fitness-enhancing strategy
  • Michelle Scalise SugiyamaEmail author


Stories consist largely of representations of the human social environment. These representations can be used to influence the behavior of others (consider, e.g., rumor, propaganda, public relations, advertising). Storytelling can thus be seen as a transaction in which the benefit to the listener is information about his or her environment, and the benefit to the storyteller is the elicitation of behavior from the listener that serves the former’s interests. However, because no two individuals have exactly the same fitness interests, we would expect different storytellers to have different narrative perspectives and priorities due to differences in sex, age, health, social status, marital status, number of offspring, and so on. Tellingly, the folklore record indicates that different storytellers within the same cultural group tell the same story differently. Furthermore, the historical and ethnographic records provide numerous examples of storytelling deliberately used as a means of political manipulation. This evidence suggests that storyteller bias is rooted in differences in individual fitness interests, and that storytelling may have originated as a means of promoting these interests.

Key words

Evolutionary psychology Fitness Folklore Human universals Narrative Sex differences Social cognition Storyteller bias Storytelling 


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Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc. 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Evolutionary Psychology, Anthropology DepartmentUniversity of CaliforniaSanta Barbara

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