TD07 – Kinds of Memes

Evolutionary design emerges from the survival of fitness in ever-changing environments. Survival is the thing!

There are many different ways that memes have evolved to survive. Here are some of them:

Survival memes

If a meme gives its host a survival advantage it is a survival meme. A safe sex meme that allows a host to live longer is a survival meme. An exercise meme that makes for a fitter host offers a survival advantage over those people who are not infected with the meme.

An experienced flying instructor shows a pilot what to do when an engine fails. I find I’m speculating now on the kind of meme battle that may have taken place in the mind of my friend John Kennedy Jr before he left the tarmac. Perhaps memes from his flying instructors may have battled with memes about getting to the wedding on time. Who knows?

Survival memes have an advantage because if hosts survive longer they spread their memes longer and more often than other memes.

Missionary memes

Some drug-taking memes are missionary memes if they are spread from the user to the non-user. Smokers have offered me many cigarettes over the years and occasionally I have accepted even though I don’t enjoy tobacco. Yesterday two pleasant young Mormon missionaries rung my doorbell to offer their memes. They gave me a copy of the Book of Mormon and, in return, I gave them one of my CDs, a kind of meme-exchange. Interestingly, while thanking me politely, they told me they would not be allowed to listen to the CD.

Most people I know have been subjected to Amway-type ‘opportunity’ memes disguised as invitations for drinks or lunch etc. Whatever the approach, whether overt or covert, missionary memes acquire new people by being spread from one missionary to another.

Fad memes

Memes that spread quickly and then die out quickly may be fad memes.


Fashions and trends and crises may be fad memes. Public opinion can be infected with fad memes. Memes like Climate Change may be both a fad meme and a survival meme or other ‘current affairs’ memes. American trend analyst, Gerald Celente, asks in Trend Tracking,

Have you ever switched from channel to channel during the news? You find that the networks are all covering the same stories, in the same order, in the same way. You can almost go from one to the other without missing anything.

You can find fad memes infecting the stock market, or any market for that matter. The media is where many fad memes find a haven because of the constant demand by reporters for new material. In a crisis, fad memes may spread so quickly that a business can be caught off guard to the point that it’s brand suffers permanent damage which itself becomes another crisis.

41ACANK3BSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Australian crisis management guru, Ross Campbell, has written a book to help businesses avoid this crisis within a crisis. In Crisis Control: Preventing and Managing Corporate Crises he warns,

Bad news makes headlines. And no matter where you are today, the media is never very far away. It takes only moments to beam the news into our homes from isolated locations. And crises have become spectator sports. We are a world of watchers. After all, millions of viewers watched the world-shattering royal crisis in Paris when Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al-Fayed were killed in a horrific car crash. And rumour will run the agenda unless there is a plan. In the early hours of the disastrous Mercedes crash in the Paris tunnel, some television reports indicated that the Princess of Wales only had a few scratches and mild concussion. The media had problems of reporting a disaster that was sealed off in a tunnel with few witnesses. Rumour ran riot with a battle of agendas being waged by a number of stakeholders including the French authorities, the British government and the spin doctors of the Al-Fayed business interests.

Impact memes

Repetition is the way most memes gain power but some memes are instantly powerful due to their high impact. You may remember the scene in a teen movie where one teenager starts projectile vomiting and that sets off a chain reaction until everyone on the screen is spewing diced carrots. In some cases this affected members of the audience, too. Since no-one was ill before the triggering event it may be an example of a an impact meme.

In his book, The Odd Brain, Dr Stephen Juan of the Faculty of Education at the University of Sydney may have the explanation:

There have been many cases of the phenomenon known as Epidemic Hysteria. For no apparent reason, a group of people will experience symptoms of illness. This may involve children of an entire school, travellers on a bus, or the whole audience at a rock concert. Besides fainting and hallucinating, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, and dehydration. Such epidemics may last several hours or even days. When one person experiences the symptoms, other people, seeing that person, experience the symptoms too.

Ritual or ceremonial memes may have a lasting effect due to their great impact. Most cultures are rich with splendid ritual which is adorned with artefacts, music and other high impact memes. The same can be seen in most of the military traditions of the various cultures. In Knights at Court Professor of Italian Studies at New York University, Aldo Scaglione, describes the famous dubbing ritual of chivalry in which a young nobleman was made a knight:

In the thirteenth century descendants of knights generally started to inherit the title, yet they were not considered full knights unless formally dubbed. The ceremonial dubbing of knights, widely practised from early in the twelfth century, was more than a ritual: it picturesquely symbolized a set of mental attitudes which related to the practical functions of knighthood, and it also marked the official recognition of a special status for these mounted solders. The specific ceremony of the granting of knighthood culminated in the girding or belting with the sword and tapping with the lord’s sword on the shoulder or “dubbing”. The custom of an all-night vigil before the investiture confirmed the sacramental nature of the procedure.


Performance utterances may also derive power as impact memes. Because of the intimidating surroundings such as a courtroom or cathedral, and the high office of the utterer, certain pronouncements have a very high impact and impress a very strong pattern on the brain of the subject.

tl_34-2_web_page18_image1In the Glossary of Cognitive Science they are listed in this way:

Performative utterances. Sometimes in using words we perform a particular kind of act. Examples include a minister’s pronouncing a couple husband and wife, thereby marrying them; or a judge’s announcing that a convict will serve twenty years for a crime, thereby passing sentence. In order for these speech acts to be efficacious as performances, several conditions must be met, including that the person uttering them must be authorised to perform those acts, that the participants in those acts must be appropriate for their roles.

Family memes

ban-on-condoms-7Memes that in any way cause the host to have a larger family – more wives, more children – than they otherwise would have are family memes. This effect increases the number of hosts that can spread the meme.

For example, many religious memeplexes include family memes which may inhibit birth control or memes that may keep women restricted to family roles or memes that attack non-breeding sexual activity.

Propaganda memes

Memes designed to control thinking may be propaganda memes. These memes may be designed by the ‘thought police’ of Big Government, Big Business or Big Religion for propagation via the Big Media of television networks, news conglomerates and Hollywood. Propaganda memes may involve censorship, prohibition or re-education.



We are all familiar with memes like Nazi book-burning or the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books or US Senator McCarthy’s ‘blacklist meme’ and they are always with us but proliferate before and during wars. As did the ‘domino theory meme’ and the ‘war to end all wars’ meme.

The internet may make it more difficult for Big Brother propaganda memes to survive.

DFQ TD07 (Feedback Question):

Give your own different example, from these kinds of memes listed above, and say what kind of meme you think your example is?

194 thoughts on “TD07 – Kinds of Memes

  1. Survival memes: eat fruit, drink 3 liters of water a day, take vitamin C before winter.

    Propaganda memes: The ways government and other big institutions send the new official true. Happens all the time and everywhere. It´s something we all can use in our projects

    Fashion memes: color, styles on cloth to use. Words to use in particular situations, now we all drink wine, etc.

    Family, Impact or missionary memes are full of examples.

    We can use memes to take good, honest and sincere advantages to fill the goals we have as a leader.

  2. Religious and political memes affect our mental puzzle.
    Survival memes affect our honesty in the way that some kills for spiritual propose to get rich, internet fraud etc.
    Intellectual specialization memes affect our initiative and our productivity.
    Improper dressing memes among the youth.

  3. gratitude – survival meme
    you are thankful in all aspects of life and work ; you are happier and you live longer more fullfiled life

  4. Working standing up is better for one’s health than sitting at a desk = survival meme or fad meme or propaganda meme

  5. Waiting for, Reading, and responding to the daily SOT e-mail to arrive.
    SOT meme, Learning meme

    Selecting the best of something when making a choice – Wanting to find something better.
    Survival meme, prestige meme – SOT meme

  6. Jokes, chain letters, FB Likes & shares, etc. These types of communication all probably fall within the Fad Meme category, even thought the specific topic of each may be the other categories (e.g., a political cartoon serving as propaganda).

  7. The “make more money” meme is a survival meme. If the host has more money, it increases the resources of the host and therefore improves their chances of survival — and therefore the survival of the meme.

  8. “Degree meme” is a impact meme, saying that those who have a college degree are intelligent, and creative and they are going to be rich and successful in life.

  9. Rejection Memes: these memes initiate rejection o persons, places or things (which include thoughts and concepts). For example, the way Christians instinctively reject Darwin’s thoughts on creation; or when political figures are rejected even while in office. With this meme children, even adults, can be primed to reject a person, place or thing without consideration.

  10. A bad pupil meme , when teachers see you as a bad pupil through the whole studying period because you started a primary school in that way. It is close to impossible to persuade teachers that you can do better and you can be one of the best pupils. I experienced this in my life.

  11. Religion memes are strong enough to hold a person in that religion for their entire life, so strong in fact they may become a suicide murder meme.
    An interesting impact meme is a personal promise, a proformative, The utterer of the promise is both authorised and appropriate to qualify for such and a personal promise can impact for a lifetime.

  12. An interesting meme is a personal promise which is an impact meme. The utterer is both authorised and appropriate for this act and it can have an impact for a life time.

    A religious meme that can hold so strongly that it becomes a murder suicide meme

  13. Character Memes

    Memes designed to replicate specific aspects of human behaviour such as honesty and integrity. The most powerful character Memes tend to be those that if demonstrated on a regular basis provide the recipient with greater acceptance/standing within the society or community within which they reside. Character Memes can be passed on via a wide variety of sources such as parents, education establishments or respected figures or elders within the relevant society/community.

  14. The large company I work for has an unwritten policy that means when change is planned it announces this firstly to supervisors and then to the workers. There are about 800 agents in the call centre and each session is made up of about 20 people. The general manager delivers the message about significant change and instructs everyone in the room to keep it to themselves. I think this means there is an innate understanding of the power if word of mouth. I think this is an example of a propaganda meme. We are lucky that the company is not very effective at what I think is an attempt at directing prescriptive behaviour. We are unlucky because there is a better way and the changes are usually important.

  15. Our company’s values, the R10 is an Impact Meme, all staff know it and hopefully live by it, it is our guiding light and our focus.

  16. One I have is when an employee is transferred to a new job site and all the rumours that precede their arrival. No matter what they say, the rumours remain firm until that person exceeds the expected work ethic of the people believing the rumours. This is also my experience when you have a new employee from outside the business. HR has gone to great effort to select this candidate but go to great lengths to explain their weaknesses.

  17. Motivational Memes – I believe these can be passed from one person to another quite often by simple words or sayings but can go to the point of actions speak louder than words.
    These motivational memes are memes that encourage somebody to improve themselves or tasks they are completing.

  18. Survival Meme: Non-smoking is a meme in many social circles, and it has been replicated, certainly in Australia, such that many public places are legislated to be smoke free.
    Missionary Meme: Diets can be missionary memes where they spread from one user to the another user.
    Fad Meme: Well diets can be fad memes too, but playground games are a fantastic example of fad memes. One month it’s marbles, then another month it’s elastics or knucklebones.
    Impact Memes: Panic or a stampede could be an impact meme.
    Ritual or Ceremony Memes: A birthday party with the birthday cake and the birthday song (Performance Utterances) is a good example of this.
    Family Meme: polygamy could be viewed as a family meme;
    Propaganda Meme: The question “are they qualified to give an opinion” is a propoganda theme, as it curtails any questioning of authority.

  19. My concept of ‘Family’ I think falls into the Survival Meme theme.
    My family consists of blood relations and some very good friends that I would gladly lay down my life to protect, and will always be there if required. It is passed down through to my children and replicated by all those I consider family.

  20. Hysteria memes would be a good home for the example I chose below:

    When a simple challenge to a persons current way of thinking drives them completely off the deep end and everything seems to difficult to comprehend. This usually happens to people who believe so heavily in a process or doctrine that any suggestion of difference is met with an overwhelming hysteric response.

  21. The one I like is the Nazi book burning as this was done back in the day it was not on every second day on every street corner, this meme is telling us they are different to most people but they were not.

  22. terrorism can be described as a meme because it works on the fear of never knowing when it will happen making you unsure of what will happen sticks in you head and wont go away,exactly the effect they are after.

  23. Fad/Propaganda Meme – Fitness / Food / lifestyle. They all seem to role into one another – its good this week and then there’s something new.. Paleo – Paleo – Paleo.

  24. Popularity Meme
    Where it doesn’t really matter what the meme is, if it’s created or promoted by a popular figure it gains traction.

  25. “We believe in family values” — as far as i am concerned the biggest joke. i call it the reverse discrimination meme, where anyone who is NOT “part of a so called family” by virtue of being single and holding very independent individualistic views, is literally ATTACKED and NOT allowed to live.

  26. Survival memes:
    Surveys done in the name of science ie: (95% of people tested showed living longer is bad for you!)
    Missionary memes:
    Most websites visited on the internet and seen on infomercials (join now to received your free colonoscopy.)
    Fad memes:
    Youtube hits. One-hit-wonder songs
    Impact memes:
    The personal loss of a family member or someone close to you. (you then join or campaign for funding/education in this field)
    Family memes:
    Internet web-sites and like you said Amway, Tupperware etc
    Propaganda memes:
    School of Thinking? Ooow.

  27. The co-operation by groups of individuals or corporations to present ‘biased’ opinions and to down-play opposite opinions in order to benefit and particular group or individual. For example, anti-vaccine groups (or even political parties) using public pages on facebook to troll the opposition or present their biased opinions as fact. This would be a propaganda meme.

  28. If there are exercise memes, there are also food memes. Food memes can be addictive and therefore drug taking memes. They can be fad memes. If the memes are handed down from generation to generation and are good for you they are survival memes.

  29. The idea that you must work hard for your money. It takes money to make money. That money is hard to come by and there is a shortage of money in the world. That money is the root of all evil. Even though these ideas have proven to be wrong time and time again by actions of many successful individuals they fail to die or to go away. This is an impact meme because If you repeat this meme long enough especially in a company of people that agree with you after a while it becomes a firmly implanted idea. The holder is the off the hook and can blame their lack of financial success on the fact that to make a lot of money you have to be rich and well connected.

  30. Save the planet ; efficient energy ; renewable energy ; reuse – recycle all of these are Survival Meme..

  31. The current US president, and many politicians around the world, use impact memes to ensure that their position stays with their public and beyond. The message simplicity, such as ‘lock-her-up’ or ‘fake news’, coupled with constant repetition leverages the crowd effect that Gustave Le Bon explained more than a hundred years ago.

  32. Polonius in Act-I, Scene-III of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet “Neither a borrower or a lender be” – Missionary Meme. My mum who grew up in the working-class East End of London used to repeat this phrase passed on from her father and has never borrowed money or had any form of credit in her life. Wasn’t strong enough to be passed on for another generation….

  33. The celebration of the Catholic mass where wine and bread are transfomed into the blood and body of Jesus Christ is a high impact, repetitive meme.

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