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Concept: Folklore


Researchers have long been fascinated by the strong continuities evident in the oral traditions associated with different cultures. According to the ‘historic-geographic’ school, it is possible to classify similar tales into “international types” and trace them back to their original archetypes. However, critics argue that folktale traditions are fundamentally fluid, and that most international types are artificial constructs. Here, these issues are addressed using phylogenetic methods that were originally developed to reconstruct evolutionary relationships among biological species, and which have been recently applied to a range of cultural phenomena. The study focuses on one of the most debated international types in the literature: ATU 333, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. A number of variants of ATU 333 have been recorded in European oral traditions, and it has been suggested that the group may include tales from other regions, including Africa and East Asia. However, in many of these cases, it is difficult to differentiate ATU 333 from another widespread international folktale, ATU 123, ‘The Wolf and the Kids’. To shed more light on these relationships, data on 58 folktales were analysed using cladistic, Bayesian and phylogenetic network-based methods. The results demonstrate that, contrary to the claims made by critics of the historic-geographic approach, it is possible to identify ATU 333 and ATU 123 as distinct international types. They further suggest that most of the African tales can be classified as variants of ATU 123, while the East Asian tales probably evolved by blending together elements of both ATU 333 and ATU 123. These findings demonstrate that phylogenetic methods provide a powerful set of tools for testing hypotheses about cross-cultural relationships among folktales, and point towards exciting new directions for research into the transmission and evolution of oral narratives.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Folklore, Fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood


Exposure to the urban environment has been shown dramatically to increase the tendency to process contextual information. To further our understanding of this effect of urbanization, we compared performance on a local-selection task of a remote people, the Himba, living traditionally or relocated to town. We showed that (a) spatial attention was defocused in urbanized Himba but focused in traditional Himba (Experiment 1), despite urbanized Himba performing better on a working memory task (Experiment 3); (b) imposing a cognitive load made attention as defocused in traditional as in urbanized Himba (Experiment 2); and © using engaging stimuli/tasks made attention as focused in urbanized Himba, and British, as in traditional Himba (Experiments 4 and 5). We propose that urban environments prioritize exploration at the expense of attentional engagement and cognitive control of attentional selection. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2013 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Attention, Cognitive psychology, Urban area, Working memory, All rights reserved, Urbanization, Town, Folklore


Salvia sclarea L., clary, is an aromatic plant traditionally used in folk medicine for the treatment of various diseases and conditions. Although it has been primarily used as a stomachic, there are data on traditional use of S. sclarea as an agent against gingivitis, stomatitis and aphthae.

Concepts: Tradition, Folklore, Salvia sclarea


Observable patterns of cultural variation are consistently intertwined with demic movements, cultural diffusion, and adaptation to different ecological contexts [Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) Cultural Transmission and Evolution: A Quantitative Approach; Boyd and Richerson (1985) Culture and the Evolutionary Process]. The quantitative study of gene-culture coevolution has focused in particular on the mechanisms responsible for change in frequency and attributes of cultural traits, the spread of cultural information through demic and cultural diffusion, and detecting relationships between genetic and cultural lineages. Here, we make use of worldwide whole-genome sequences [Pagani et al. (2016) Nature 538:238-242] to assess the impact of processes involving population movement and replacement on cultural diversity, focusing on the variability observed in folktale traditions (n = 596) [Uther (2004) The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography. Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson] in Eurasia. We find that a model of cultural diffusion predicted by isolation-by-distance alone is not sufficient to explain the observed patterns, especially at small spatial scales (up to [Formula: see text]4,000 km). We also provide an empirical approach to infer presence and impact of ethnolinguistic barriers preventing the unbiased transmission of both genetic and cultural information. After correcting for the effect of ethnolinguistic boundaries, we show that, of the alternative models that we propose, the one entailing cultural diffusion biased by linguistic differences is the most plausible. Additionally, we identify 15 tales that are more likely to be predominantly transmitted through population movement and replacement and locate putative focal areas for a set of tales that are spread worldwide.

Concepts: Scientific method, Genetics, Evolution, Sociology, Culture, Anthropology, Folklore, Aarne-Thompson classification system


We trace the legacies of filmed patient narratives that were edited and screened to encourage engagement with a participatory quality improvement project in an acute hospital setting in England. Using Gabriel’s theory of “narrative contract,” we examine the initial success of the films in establishing common grounds for participatory project and later, and more varied, interpretations of the films. Over time, the films were interpreted by staff as either useful sources of learning by critical reflection, dubious (invalid or unreliable) representations of patient experience, or as “closed” items available as auditable evidence of completed quality improvement work. We find these interpretations of the films to be shaped by the effect of social distance, the differential outcomes of project work, and changing organizational agendas. We consider the wider conditions of patient narrative as a form of quality improvement knowledge with immediate potency and fragile or fluid legitimacy over time.

Concepts: Hermeneutics, Film, Interpretation, Editing, Character, Narrative, Movie theater, Folklore


Research to date has focused on fitness costs that coalitional aggression imposes on men and how these may have shaped male cognitive design. This study investigated whether warfare may have shaped female cognitive design by identifying fitness costs that lethal raiding imposes on women and determining how widespread these fitness costs are across a sample of forager and forager-horticulturalist societies. To this end, archaeological and ethnographic accounts of lethal raiding were used to generate a list of fitness costs suffered by women in warfare. Five costs were identified: woman killed, woman captured, offspring killed, mate killed/captured, and adult male kin killed/captured. A cross-cultural sample of forager and forager-horticulturalist oral traditions was then surveyed for the presence of these costs. Results suggest that lethal raiding has recurrently imposed fitness costs on women, and that female cognitive design bears reexamination in terms of the motivational and decision-making mechanisms that may have evolved in response to them. This study differs from previous studies of lethal raiding by addressing the lack of comparative research on the fitness costs of warfare for women, by examining a wider range of fitness costs, and by using oral tradition as a database.

Concepts: Male, Reproduction, Female, Gender, Sex, Girl, Woman, Folklore


This study uses urban legends to examine the effects of the social information bias and survival information bias on cultural transmission across three phases of transmission: the choose-to-receive phase, the encode-and-retrieve phase, and the choose-to-transmit phase. In line with previous research into content biases, a linear transmission chain design with 60 participants aged 18-52 was used to examine the encode-and-retrieve phase, while participants were asked to rank their interest in reading the story behind a headline and passing a story on for the other two phases. Legends which contained social information (Social Type), legends which contained survival information (Survival Type), and legends which contained both forms of information (Combined Type) were all recalled with significantly greater accuracy than control material, while Social and Combined Type legends were recalled with significantly greater accuracy than Survival Type legends. In another study with 30 participants aged 18-22, no significant differences were found between legend types in either the choose-to-receive phase or the choose-to-transmit phase.

Concepts: Critical thinking, Phase, Folklore, Urban legend, Legend


This article presents a list of medical remedies based on the use of amphibians in Spanish popular medicine and in the classical world. It provides an overview of bibliography relative to folklore studies, ethnographic work and research on social or medical anthropology. It documents a total of 113 remedies and the use of nine species of amphibians, two from the family of caudates (urodeles) and seven anurans. Most of these remedies are based on the popular “preconception” about the influence of amphibians and healing by transmitting an illness to a living creature. The traditional use of certain threatened species is emphasized, an issue to bear in mind in decision-making in the field of conservation biology and environmental education.

Concepts: Medicine, Evolution, Biology, Species, Anthropology, Amphibian, Ethnography, Folklore


BACKGROUND: The Chilean temperate rainforest has been subjected to dramatic fragmentation for agriculture and forestry exploitation. Carnivore species are particularly affected by fragmentation and the resulting resource use conflicts with humans. This study aimed at understanding values and human-animal relationships with negatively perceived threatened carnivores through the disclosure of local stories and Mapuche traditional folktales. METHODS: Our mixed approach comprised the qualitative analysis of 112 stories on the kodkod cat (Leopardus guigna) and the puma (Puma concolor) collected by students (9-14 years) from 28 schools in the Araucania region within their family contexts, 10 qualitative in-depth interviews with indigenous Mapuche people, and 35 traditional Mapuche legends and the significance of naming found in ethnographic collections. RESULTS: We revealed a quasi-extinction of traditional tales in the current knowledge pool about pumas and kodkods, local anecdotes, however, were present in significant numbers. Values associated to both felids were manifold, ranging from negativistic to positive values. While pumas played an important role in people’s spirituality, negative mythological connotations persisted in kodkod stories. Four prominent relationships were derived: (1) Both felids represent threats to livestock, pumas even to life (2) both felids are symbols for upcoming negative events, (3) pumas are spiritual creatures, and (4) kodkods are threatened by humans. Recommendations are provided for stimulating new ways of perceiving unpopular and threatened carnivores among those who live in vicinity to them.

Concepts: Felidae, Argentina, Chile, Cougar, Puma, Folklore, Leopardus, Mapuche


Southern Africa was likely exclusively inhabited by San hunter-gatherers before ~2000 years ago. Around that time, East African groups assimilated with local San groups and gave rise to the Khoekhoe herders. Subsequently, Bantu-speaking farmers, arriving from the north (~1800 years ago), assimilated and displaced San and Khoekhoe groups, a process that intensified with the arrival of European colonists ~350 years ago. In contrast to the western parts of southern Africa, where several Khoe-San groups still live today, the eastern parts are largely populated by Bantu speakers and individuals of non-African descent. Only a few scattered groups with oral traditions of Khoe-San ancestry remain. Advances in genetic research open up new ways to understand the population history of southeastern Africa. We investigate the genomic variation of the remaining individuals from two South African groups with oral histories connecting them to eastern San groups, i.e., the San from Lake Chrissie and the Duma San of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg. Using ~2.2 million genetic markers, combined with comparative published data sets, we show that the Lake Chrissie San have genetic ancestry from both Khoe-San (likely the ||Xegwi San) and Bantu speakers. Specifically, we found that the Lake Chrissie San are closely related to the current southern San groups (i.e., the Karretjie people). Duma San individuals, on the other hand, were genetically similar to southeastern Bantu speakers from South Africa. This study illustrates how genetic tools can be used to assess hypotheses about the ancestry of people who seemingly lost their historic roots, only recalling a vague oral tradition of their origin.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Africa, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Folklore, Khoikhoi