Scientists draw a link between facts, stories and persuasion

Based on a research carried out by a team of social psychologists at the Northwestern University, stories have a great efficiency to persuade weak information. The team also draws attention to the fact that stories play a greater role in disrupting the ability to evaluate facts than just indulging a person to think positively.

Prior study in the area has also concluded that storytelling has the capability of persuading people. However through the latest investigation, the team has elaborated why stories were found to be more persuasive.

According to the study, stories helped people in focusing more concretely on the good aspects of a message and undermined the negative ones. Furthermore, stories also helped in disrupting people’s ability to process information. According to experts, these facts were important because they further also helped in studying when stories would become less or more persuasive.

The team experimented with 397 US adults in order to gauge the persuasiveness of stories. By using a fictitious brand of cell phone called Moonstone, the participants were asked to evaluate the strong or weak facts about the cell phone. While one half of the people read only the facts of the phone, the other half also read the facts, but in form of a story.

The team concluded, that when a weak fact was presented with a story background, it had more power to persuade. The reverse effect was observed when the facts were positive, the facts alone had a greater effect to persuade than facts presented in form of a story. It could thus be inferred that stories not only diverted people’s attention from weak information, but it also reduced the processing of general information among people. Thus stories helped in persuading information when the facts were weak, but the effect was not as constructive when the facts were strong.

“Knowing that stories may provide the most persuasive benefit to those with the least compelling arguments could be important given concerns about ‘fake news.’” Reported Rebecca Krause. She has co-authored the paper along with Derek Rucker.

“But this does not mean a story is indicative of weak facts. Rather, when you feel especially compelled by a great story you might want to give more thought and consideration to the facts to determine how good they are,” she adds.

The study was presented in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It is a publication of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.