Eliciting Values and Social Norms from Folktales - Insights From a Novel Folktale Database

Stefan Voigt (Hamburg)
Nadia von Jacobi (Trento)
Mahdi Khesali (Hamburg)


It is often maintained that most values, norms and moral systems are largely time-invariant but empirical evidence supporting that claim has been virtually non-existent. This study is a first step to change that. Since folktales, such as legends and fairy tales, are often transmitted virtually unchanged from generation to generation, we rely on them to extract information about the values, norms, and attitudes held dear by different societies in the past. On the basis of some 19,000 folktales from 122 countries, we have produced a “historical world values survey”. We take advantage of recent developments in artificial intelligence in order to elicit values and norms from folklore texts. Our analysis shows differences and commonalities in these across different world regions and cultures. It allows us to compare historically prevalent values and norms with contemporaneously held ones.

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