The Many Manipulations of Morty Mouse: Children's Stories and the Parental Encouragement of Altruism


Most analyses of children's stories share the assumption that stories are told to children to influence their behavior. This paper explores how the analysis of stories can provide insight into social strategies used by people interacting within their cultural context. To demonstrate the potential of this approach, we created multiple versions of an original children's story to explore attitudes of college students toward the form of social interaction known as reciprocal altruism. Some versions portrayed the protagonist of the story as following a tit-for-tat strategy, while in other versions the protagonist was altruistic toward all the other characters regardless of their past behavior. Subjects read one of the versions and rated it in terms of how likely they would be to read it to a child of the appropriate age. The highest rated version involved the protagonist being altruistic even to characters that had cheated in the past. We discuss this finding and suggest future applications of this methodology.

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Copyright © by The University of New Mexico


children's stories, culture, indirect reciprocal altruism, parental behavior, reciprocal altruism, tit-for-tat strategy

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Journal of Anthropological Research