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Bengerter & Heath (2004)

Bengerter & Heath (2004) - 605 British Journal of...

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The Mozart effect: Tracking the evolution of a scientific legend Adrian Bangerter 1 * and Chip Heath 2 1 Department of Psychology, Stanford University, USA 2 Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, USA Theories of the diffusion of ideas in social psychology converge on the assumption that shared beliefs (e.g., social representations, rumours and legends) propagate because they address the needs or concerns of social groups. But little empirical research exists demonstrating this link. We report three media studies of the diffu- sion of a scientific legend as a particular kind of shared belief. We studied the Mozart effect (ME), the idea that listening to classical music enhances intelligence. Study 1 showed that the ME elicited more persistent media attention than other science reports and this attention increased when the ME was manifested in events outside of science. Study 2 suggested that diffusion of the ME may have responded to varying levels of collective anxiety. Study 3 demonstrated how the content of the ME evolved during diffusion. The results provide evidence for the functionality of diffusion of ideas and initial elements for a model of the emergence and evolution of scientific legends. Social psychology and the diffusion of ideas The problem of how ideas spread within and between social groups is an important element of understanding culture, social stability and social change, but it has re- mained an underexplored topic in social psychology. This is partly due to mainstream social psychology’s emphasis on experimental research. Experimental social psy- chology has contributed much to the understanding of behavioural and attitude change in individuals , but the processes involved in the diffusion of ideas often occur on a time scale that precludes experimental study. Not that there is no interest in how ideas spread. Indeed, some approaches advocate the study of ideas and their spread as a central focus of social psychology (e.g., Bartlett, 1932; Fraser & Gaskell, 1990; Moscovici, 1984; Sperber, 1990). Moreover, they converge on key assumptions. In particular, many of them assume that the spread of ideas is functional , in that they spread because they fulfil a motivational need of an individual or a group. For example, social representations are postulated to help laypersons sym- bolically cope with unfamiliar and potentially menacing scientific and technological innovations (Wagner, Kronberger, & Seifert, 2002), or rumours are assumed to spread *Correspondence should be addressed to Adrian Bangerter, Groupe de Psychologie Appliquée, Université de Neuchâtel, Fbg. de l’Hôpital 106, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland (e-mail: [email protected]). British Journal of Social Psychology (2004), 43, 605–623 © 2004 The British Psychological Society www.bps.org.uk 605
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in response to uncertainty and anxiety (Allport & Postman, 1947). But critics (Jost & Ignatow, 2001) have noted that these assumptions have remained largely untested.
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