Common Ground and Cultural Prominence: How Conversation Reinforces Culture

Common Ground and Cultural Prominence: How Conversation Reinforces Culture

By
Nathanael J. Fast, Chip Heath, George Wu
Psychological Science. July
2009, Vol. 20, Issue 7, Pages 904-911

Why do well-known ideas, practices, and people maintain their cultural prominence in the presence of equally good or better alternatives? This article suggests that a social-psychological process whereby people seek to establish common ground with their conversation partners causes familiar elements of culture to increase in prominence, independently of performance or quality. Two studies tested this hypothesis in the context of professional baseball, showing that common ground predicted the cultural prominence of baseball players better than their performance, even though clear performance metrics are available in this domain. Regardless of performance, familiar players, who represented common ground, were discussed more often than lesser-known players, both in a dyadic experiment (Study 1) and in natural discussions on the Internet (Study 2). Moreover, these conversations mediated the positive link between familiarity and a more institutionalized measure of prominence: All-Star votes (Study 2). Implications for research on the psychological foundations of culture are discussed.