Research Press Release

Anthropology: The benefits of a good story

Nature Communications

December 6, 2017

Storytelling is associated with cooperativeness in the Agta hunter-gatherer society of the Philippines, finds a study published in Nature Communications this week. Furthermore, skilled storytellers are shown to have higher social and reproductive success.

Storytelling is ubiquitous in human societies and is thought to be a valuable method of transmitting knowledge. Nevertheless, the specific benefits of storytelling can be difficult to determine.

Daniel Smith and colleagues explored the individual and group benefits of storytelling in the Agta society. They found that traditional stories have predominant themes of cooperation and social norms, in agreement with a wider analysis of stories from seven additional forager societies. In an experimental game, individuals from camps with skilled storytellers were more cooperative than those with less skilled storytellers. Furthermore, skill in storytelling was the best predictor of being chosen as a social partner, nearly doubling the likelihood of being chosen compared with non-skilled storytellers. Finally, skilled storytellers have on average 0.5 more surviving offspring compared to non-skilled storytellers.

The authors propose that storytelling plays an important role in promoting cooperation and that this function has favoured the spread of storytelling itself.


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