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Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age$
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Alberto Acerbi

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198835943

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198835943.001.0001

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(p.49) 3 Prestige
Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age

Alberto Acerbi

Oxford University Press

Drawing on the background developed in the second chapter, this chapter examines specifically online phenomena, scrutinizing the role of influencers, celebrities, and famous people in general. Cultural evolutionists talk about prestige bias in this regard: one can make use of signs of deference, respect, or simply check from whom other people are learning, and choose those individuals as cultural models. This tendency gives us today, in large and opaque networks of cultural transmission—the story goes—the celebrities “famous for being famous,” if not the danger of radical proselytism from charismatic leaders. We will see, however, that experiments and data tell something more nuanced: celebrities’ influence works only in specific conditions and it is far from being a blind force. Recent internet trends, such as the rise of micro-influencers, figures who are expert in their domain, and who can engage in direct relationship with their followers, are consistent with this picture.

Keywords:   prestige bias, quotations, context and content, celebrity influence, advertisements, micro-influencers

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