Macquarie University
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Story as niche construction: the cultural evolution of fictional narratives

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posted on 2022-03-28, 21:40 authored by Graham Thomas
Some evolutionary psychologists – such as Tooby & Cosmides (2001) – argue that engagement with fictional narratives is adaptive, that humans have evolved genetically to be driven to, and capable of, engaging with stories because they provide a reproductive benefit. I will argue that evidence that purports to show that the human brain is hard-wired for engagement with fictional narratives is weak. In contrast, I outline a more plausible account : that the practice of fictional engagement is better explained as an exaptation. Through a process of scaffolded learning, capacities that have likely been selected for other reasons are co-opted and extended to allow an individual to engage with their culture’s stories. From here I situate fictional narratives within a ‘fiction niche’, a suite of practices and storytelling norms of form and content that are passed down from generation to generation, and which each new member is inducted into. I conclude by briefly discussing some of the functional roles such a niche might serve : in particular providing a shared cultural reference point that facilitates interactions between individuals within a community, and normalising behaviour across the population in ways that foster group identity and social cohesion.


Table of Contents

Introduction --- Chapter 1. The background -- Chapter 2. Fictional competency as adaptation -- Chapter 3. Fictional competency as exaptation -- Chapter 4. The fiction niche -- Conclusion -- References.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliopography: pages 54-64

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


MRes, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Richard Menary


Copyright Graham Thomas 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (iii, 64 pages)

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