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‘Did Fred Flintstone Really Live with Dinosaurs?’: The Effect of Visual Media on the Public Perceptions of Human Evolution with a Specific Focus on Homo neanderthalensis

TAYLOR, CERI,LIANN (2021) ‘Did Fred Flintstone Really Live with Dinosaurs?’: The Effect of Visual Media on the Public Perceptions of Human Evolution with a Specific Focus on Homo neanderthalensis. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Academic perceptions of Homo neanderthalensis have changed dramatically since the beginnings of palaeoanthropology in the 19th century. Contemporary research advocates that Neanderthals were caring, artistic, capable of symbolic thought, and possessed the ability for articulated speech; with many academics asserting that they were merely a geographical variation of our own species. However, evidence has shown that public perceptions of Neanderthals, and human evolution more generally, are not congruent with recent academic research and instead echo the academic perceptions of Victorian science, where Neanderthals were hairy cavemen and evolution was progressive. This thesis explores and examines the extent to which the visual media of popular science has influenced these stereotypical perceptions of evolution in the public. In order to determine the extent to which visual media has influenced this, a two-fold method has been utilised which (1) involves a questionnaire to discern the sources with which the public interact and identify if there is a clear difference between academic and lay perceptions and (2) a dual-purpose interdisciplinary experiment that utilises psychological techniques to test whether visual media are more persuasive and memorable than verbal media. Results found that there was no conclusive evidence to support a difference between images and text in terms of persuasion and memorability, however, images were found to contain concealed tropes that elicit the production of additional stereotypes. It was found instead that the public are more likely than those within the field of anthropology to uncritically accept information they are presented concerning human evolution, irrespective of format, due to the trust they place in public science. Thus it was shown that the uncritical absorption of information from the public is a key factor in the perpetuation of negative Neanderthal stereotypes and is considered as such for both visual and verbal media.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Science
Keywords:Neanderthals, palaeoanthropology, stereotypes, visual media
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:12 Oct 2021 15:56

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