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Cultural Sentiments and Schema-Consistency Bias in Information Transmission

American Sociological Review

Published online on


The negative outcomes associated with cultural stereotypes based on race, class, and gender and related schema-consistency biases are well documented. How these biases become culturally entrenched is less well understood. In particular, previous research has neglected the role of information transmission processes in perpetuating cultural biases. In this study, I combine insights from the cultural cognition, affect control theory, and cultural transmission frameworks to examine how one form of internalized culture—fundamental cultural sentiments—affects the content of information shared in communication. I argue that individuals communicate narratives in ways that minimize deflection of internalized cultural sentiments, resulting in cultural-consistency bias. I test this proposition using a serial transmission study in which participants read and retell short stories. Results show that culturally inconsistent, high-deflection information experiences an initial boost in memorability, but consistency biases ultimately win out as information is altered to increase cultural consistency, demonstrating that deflection provides a promising measure of cultural schema-consistency. This measure is predictive of the information that individuals share in communication and changes to this information in the transmission process.