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A grand gesture

A review of Origins of Human Communication by Michael Tomasello. Bradford Books, MIT Press (2008), 400 pages. Price: £23.95 ($36.00), ISBN: 0262201771 (harback)

Journal of Evolutionary Psychology
Author:
Louise Barrett
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Previous work on Shakespearian plays has shown that the structure of these dramas reflects the levels of grouping found in a variety of human societies. In this paper, we use data from soap operas to investigate whether this form of narrative drama also displays evidence of this form of social structuring. Data from ten weekly serials were analysed and revealed that mean scene size (number of speaking characters per scene) was similar to that previously found for Shakespearian plays, and also similar to the mean size of naturally forming conversational groups. This group size is usually identified as corresponding to individual “support cliques” in the literature. The number of recurring characters appearing per episode and per week of episodes was also similar to that found for Shakespeare's plays and corresponded to the size of human “sympathy groups”. A questionnaire study administered to 30 respondents revealed that individuals maintained an average of 85.8 “para-social” television-based relationships. However, since they also apparently had real social networks of conventional size, the data do not suggest that individuals who are avid followers of TV soaps necessarily do so because they are less sociable than those who do not.

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