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Master's Thesis

The Viral Aspects of Language:
A Quantitative Research of Memetic Selection Criteria

In 2003 I took my first steps in memetics. I had been trained as a master in linguistics and needed a subject for my master's thesis. I had stumbled on memetics a couple of years earlier and had already written a few papers on it for various assignments, hereby further exploring this young field and laying out a path for myself that was not so obvious for a trained linguist. At first sight linguistics and memetics have few things in common so the combination of these two was new.

I had the advantage of having one of the early meme-specialists, Dr. Francis Heylighen, right here at our university. Although he had not been working in the field anymore for quite a few years, his knowledge was still very accurate and he agreed to be my counselor for the writing of this paper. Together we agreed that it would be a fine idea to tackle some of the critiques and challenges that lay upon the field of memetics, mainly the shift from a purely theoretical to a science with practical implications.

We decided it was necessary to quantify the science of memetics by creating a small study that would show the basics of this methodology. We used a survey to question the survey-takers about certain memetic selection criteria. We then compared the results of the various criteria to the degree of spreading of the memes that were used in the survey.

In this study we surveyed 200 people and asked them to score various memes on the different selection criteria that were used (Novelty, Simplicity, Danger, Benefit, Authority and Replication Pressure). To make the various memes comparable we limited ourselves to the use of virushoaxes.

The full thesis is presented here as a downloadable pdf file for those of you who want to read the full thing. Please use this reference to quote the thesis:

Chielens, K. (2003). The Viral Aspects of Language: A Quantitative Research of Memetic Selection Criteria. Unpublished master's thesis, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.

©2006 Klaas Chielens