Can tweets become the new folktale?

Are fake news more memorable? What about positive or negative emotions?

Can tweets become the new folktale? is a study about people’s short term memory retention after exposed to controlled tweet content done for the course W241 Causal Experimentation and Inference. Authors: Carolina Arriaga, Alice Hua, Manpreet Khural, Randy Moral.


Is memory retention affected by the sentiment and truthfulness of a tweet? Folktales are examples of narratives with a long-term life that help transmit a society’s customs, attitudes, values, and even philosophies of life to the next generation (Fuhler et al.). Social media, a popular medium of communication, may supplant the role of folktales by persisting in the memories of its consumers and spreading from person to person. The uncontrolled source of micro-stories in social media like Twitter may be generating new narratives with a long-term educational impact (Meyers). To evaluate how memorable the narratives of tweets are, we ran a factorial design considering two main factors related to the content of tweets: Truthfulness (false/true) and Sentiment (negative/positive). We showed participants tweets and asked them to answer seven questions on the contents after a distraction period. We measured short-term memory retention by aggregating correctly answered questions from each participant with a maximum point value of seven. We performed a regression analysis and found that truthfulness and sentiment can negatively impact the short-term memory retention of people using a social media platform similar to Twitter. When true information and negative sentiment content is exposed to subjects, a reduction of 1.27 土 0.72 (p=0.002) points is observed. The finding was contradictory to related literature that suggests true and emotionally negative content is easier to remember. Negative sentiment had a larger negative effect and reduced short-term memory retention by 0.88 土 0.27 (p=0.0018 ). We conclude that the kinds of narratives that are remembered the most and thus persist socially are ones with false information and positive sentiment rather than ones with true but negative content. A further study to capture long-term memory retention could help us understand whether these kinds of tweets have the holding power to be modern folktales.

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