In one clever archival study in a 2003 issue of Evolution and Human Behavior, University of Guelph psychologists Hank Davis and Lyndsay McLeod sampled a random selection of news stories from eight different cultures over the past three hundred years. What they discovered was that the “essence” of sensational news— what made something particularly alluring to a human readership— was its relevance to reproductive success in the ancestral past. Most of these high-profile stories dealt with things such as altruism, reputation, cheaters, violence, sex, and the treatment of offspring. In other words, what whets our appetites in the social domain today are probably the same general topics of conversation that the first humans were gabbing about 150,000 years ago in sub-Saharan Africa.
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