Why do we tell stories? Hunter-gatherers shed light on evolutionary roots of fiction


EXCERPT: [...] why do we spend hours listening to and telling stories, often of exploits that never even happened? Clearly, from an evolutionary standpoint, this is time and effort that could be better spent foraging, reproducing or simply doing nothing to save energy.

Perhaps the human proclivity for storytelling is merely a byproduct of our evolved psychology – a series of inputs which manipulate and titillate our cognitive machinery. Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker fittingly refers to this as “evolutionary cheesecake”. But given the ubiquity of storytelling, it may perform an important adaptive role in human societies.

In a new study on hunter-gatherer societies, published in Nature Communications, my colleagues and I propose that storytelling may function as a mechanism to disseminate knowledge by broadcasting social norms to coordinate social behaviour and promote cooperation.

The type of knowledge in question is “meta-knowledge” – information about other people’s knowledge. This is, in fact, required for any society to function. For instance, it is not enough for people to know that they should drive on a certain side of the road, they also need to know that others possess that same knowledge. Stories may therefore act to ensure that all members of the group know, and consequently abide by, the “rules of the game” in a given society.

Moralising gods and organised religion may perform a similar function in post-agricultural populations by organising behaviour and promoting cooperation. However, these are often absent in hunter-gatherer societies, despite these groups being highly cooperative. We therefore proposed that hunter-gatherer storytelling may perform a comparable function to moralising gods in such societies....

MORE: https://theconversation.com/why-do-we-te...tion-88586

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