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Discovery of the faithfulness gene: A model of transmission and transformation of scientific information


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Eva G. T. Green, Institute of Social and Pedagogical Sciences, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Anthropole, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland (e-mail:


The purpose of this paper is to study the diffusion and transformation of scientific information in everyday discussions. Based on rumour models and social representations theory, the impact of interpersonal communication and pre-existing beliefs on transmission of the content of a scientific discovery was analysed. In three experiments, a communication chain was simulated to investigate how laypeople make sense of a genetic discovery first published in a scientific outlet, then reported in a mainstream newspaper and finally discussed in groups. Study 1 (N =40) demonstrated a transformation of information when the scientific discovery moved along the communication chain. During successive narratives, scientific expert terminology disappeared while scientific information associated with lay terminology persisted. Moreover, the idea of a discovery of a faithfulness gene emerged. Study 2 (N =70) revealed that transmission of the scientific message varied as a function of attitudes towards genetic explanations of behaviour (pro-genetics vs. anti-genetics). Pro-genetics employed more scientific terminology than anti-genetics. Study 3 (N =75) showed that endorsement of genetic explanations was related to descriptive accounts of the scientific information, whereas rejection of genetic explanations was related to evaluative accounts of the information.