Thought Contagion

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Thought Contagion.jpg
Author Aaron Lynch
Language English
Publisher Basic Books
Publication Date October 17, 1996
Pages 208
ISBN 0465084664

Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society is a 1996 book by Aaron Lynch which highlights the science of memetics to a popular audience. The book applies evolutionary models to collections of beliefs called memes.

The basic premise is that a meme's fitness for survival and propagation is not determined by the degree to which it fits reality, but the degree to which the meme itself encourages retransmission to others. To this end the author presents seven qualities—called modes—that work to maximize retransmission.

Retransmission Modes[edit]

  • Quantity Parenthood refers to the encouragement of having more children. Since parents heavily influence children during their most formative years, it is likely that the meme which encouraged them to have children in the first place will be successfully retransmitted to at least some of the children.
  • Efficiency Parenthood guides the methods of parenting to increase the rate at which children absorb their parents' beliefs.
  • Proselytization is the attempt to persuade people other than one's own children to adopt the meme. A successful proselytization campaign can increase the host population far faster than either quantity or efficiency parenthood.
  • Belief Preservation are methods that ensure that the host maintains adherence to the meme for a long period of time, often by self-limiting exposure to competing memes.
  • Sabotaging the Competition refers to threatening or causing harm to the competition—for example, by punishing or killing those who speak against it or who speak for different memes. When the competing meme's adherents are afraid to speak out, the meme will struggle to compete.
  • Cognitive Advantage refers to the impact of the meme's actual intellectual merit.
  • Motivational Advantage means that hosts expect to be better off than non-hosts.


  • Like a software virus in a computer network or a physical virus in a city, thought contagions proliferate by effectively 'programming' for their own retransmission. Beliefs affect retransmission in so many ways that they set off a colorful, unplanned growth race among diverse 'epidemics' of ideas.