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Learning, Psychology, Sustainability, Uncategorized

To tell a story or not to tell a story

A story is a pretty powerful thing. I’ve had day campers come back to me a year later and repeat some of the stories I’ve told and I’ve watched adults debate the truth of a particular legend told on a canoe trip. The stories we tell ourselves can greatly influence how we respond to trauma or obstacles (I just started reading SuperBetter so there may be another post on this topic at a later date).

Prior research has indicated that weaving facts into a story will help persuade your audience and there are many charities that draw on this potential (you’re not saving a child, you’re saving this child who has these hopes and dreams). They may even lead a listener to passively accept the viewpoint of the storyteller. But a recent study by Kraus and Rucker (2019) indicates that storytelling might have different impacts depending on the strength of the facts.

If you saw two cell phones and one said it could withstand a fall from 3 ft, while the other said it could withstand a fall from 30 ft, which one would you select if everything else was equal? I’d choose the phone that wasn’t going to break everytime I dropped it from hip height personally. But when those facts were presented in a story, participants were more persuaded by the story about the 3 ft droppable phone than by the 30 ft one.

This is still preliminary research and, as such, there are no clear answers as to why this happens. However, as someone who has committed a fair amount of time (and is aiming at doing more) to communicating and educating about sustainability in ways that reach the many diverse individuals and groups that exist with the full spectrum of beliefs about the reality of what are some very strong facts about climate change I’m intrigued by the potential follow up from these findings. Are there cultural, gender identity, or socioeconomic factors that have an impact? What if the facts presented relate to something much more controversial than a cell phone like end of life decisions or the impact of eating meat on climate change? Does it make a difference if the facts/story are written versus told and if told in what ways does who does the telling matter?

We have so much fake news today and the power of the Internet puts the power to reach out and tell a story in the hands of many more people credible and not (she says in her non-peer reviewed blog). Stories do have the power to move us but at a time when we are in dire need of taking significant action we are having trouble shifting the story from the one we’re comfortable in. How can this research help us to achieve what we need to do?

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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