The serial reproduction of an urban myth: revisiting Bartlett’s schema theory

James Ost, Julie Udell, Sandra Dear, Jörg Zinken, Hartmut Blank, Alan Costall*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Frederic Bartlett’s schema theory is still widely misunderstood as claiming that remembering is inevitably unreliable. However, according to the logic of his schema theory, remembering should, in relation to certain kinds of material, be relatively reliable. In this study we examined whether a “well-worn” urban myth (the Vanishing Hitchhiker) could be exempt from the fate of other material used in Bartlett’s own research on serial reproduction. Supporting Bartlett’s ideas, we found that recall of the Hitchhiker story was better (if not perfect) over a series of five reproductions than recall of the classic War of the Ghosts. Recall was also better for a strict (as opposed to a lenient) audience, in line with another prediction from Bartlett’s social theory of remembering. Notwithstanding this, we conclude with some critical remarks on the serial reproduction method as an approach to cultural memory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-783
Number of pages9
Issue number6
Early online date16 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2022


  • schema theory
  • Frederic Bartlett
  • serial reproduction
  • social memory
  • story recall


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