Gina Redhead & Robin Dunbar; 2013
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.