Original article:

The functions of language: An experimental study

Evolutionary Psychology 11(4): 845-854 Gina Redhead, Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford, Oxford, United KingdomR. I. M. Dunbar, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom, robin.dunbar@psy.ox.ac.uk


We test between four separate hypotheses (social gossip, social contracts, mate advertising and factual information exchange) for the function(s) of language using a recall paradigm. Subjects recalled the social content of stories (irrespective of whether this concerned social behavior, defection or romantic events) significantly better than they did ecological information. Recall rates were no better on ecological stories if they involved flamboyant language, suggesting that, if true, Miller’s “Scheherazade effect” may not be independent of content. One interpretation of these results might be that language evolved as an all-purpose social tool, and perhaps acquired specialist functions (sexual advertising, contract formation, information exchange) at a later date through conventional evolutionary windows of opportunity.


function of language, memory, sex differences, evolution

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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