Bietti, L.M., Tilston, O., & Bangerter, A. (2018). Storytelling as adaptive collective sensemaking. TopiCS in Cognitive Science. https://doi.org/10.1111/tops.12358
Storytelling represents a key element in the creation and propagation of culture. Three main accounts of the adaptive function of storytelling include (a) manipulating the behavior of the audience to enhance the fitness of the narrator, (b) transmitting survival-relevant information while avoiding the costs involved in the first-hand acquisition of that information, and (c) maintaining social bonds or group-level cooperation. We assess the substantial evidence collected in experimental and ethnographic studies for each account. These accounts do not always appeal to the specific features of storytelling above and beyond language use in general. We propose that the specific adaptive value of storytelling lies in making sense of non-routine, uncertain, or novel situations, thereby enabling the collaborative development of previously acquired skills and knowledge, but also promoting social cohesion by strengthening intragroup identity and clarifying intergroup relations.