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Durham University

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Dr Joseph Stubbersfield

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Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology

Contact Dr Joseph Stubbersfield

My research focuses on how cognitive biases influence both the content and propogation of narratives, in particular urban legends and conspiracy theories. My research draws on the fields of cultural evolution, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology and social learning. I studied Psychology at Manchester University (2005-2008) before completing a Master's degree in Evolutionary Psychology at Liverpool University (2010). My PhD was completed at Durham University (2014), with a thesis on the cultural evolution and transmission of urban legends. I then worked in the School of Biology at St Andrews University as a postdoctoral research fellow examing how the moral content of stories influences their social transmission. My most recent work at Durham University examined the propogation of health-related conspiracy theories, including field work in Sri Lanka.

Research Groups

Evolutionary Anthropology

Centre for the Coevolution of Biology and Culture

Research Groups

Department of Anthropology

Research Interests

  • Cognitive anthropology
  • Cultural evolution and transmission
  • Social learning
  • Creativity, storytelling behaviour and oral traditions
  • Folklore, myth and legends, particularly contemporary folklore

Selected Publications

Journal Article

  • Jiménez, Ángel V., Stubbersfield, Joseph M. & Tehrani, Jamshid J. (2018). An experimental investigation into the transmission of antivax attitudes using a fictional health controversy. Social Science & Medicine 215: 23-27.
  • Stubbersfield, Joseph, Tehrani, Jamshid & Flynn, Emma (2018). Faking the News: Intentional Guided Variation Reflects Cognitive Biases in Transmission Chains Without Recall. Cultural Science Journal 10(1): 54-65.
  • Stubbersfield, J., Tehrani, J. & Flynn, E. (2017). Chicken tumours and fishy revenge: Evidence for emotional content bias in the cumulative recall of urban legends. Journal of Cognition and Culture 17(1-2): 12-26.
  • Stubbersfield, J., Flynn, E. & Tehrani, J. (2017). Cognitive Evolution and the Transmission of Popular Narratives: A Literature Review and Application to Urban Legends. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture 1(1): 121-136.
  • Stubbersfield, J.M., Tehrani, J.J. & Flynn, E.G. (2015). Serial killers, spiders and cybersex social and survival information bias in the transmission of urban legends. British Journal of Psychology 106(2): 288-307.
  • Stubbersfield, J. & Tehrani, J. (2013). Expect the Unexpected? Testing for Minimally Counterintuitive (MCI) Bias in the Transmission of Contemporary Legends: A Computational Phylogenetic Approach. Social Science Computer Review 31(1): 90-102.

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • Stubbersfield, J.M. (2018). Contemporary folklore reflects old psychology. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture Blog
  • Stubbersfield, J.M. (2018). Faces in the mirror: the urban legend of Bloody Mary. Folklore Thursday
  • Stubbersfield, J.M. (2014). This is why some urban legends go viral. The Conversation

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