Stories Work Brilliantly To Change People’s Minds — But There’s A Catch

The best persuasion technique depends on whether the facts are weak or strong.

The best persuasion technique depends on whether the facts are weak or strong.

Stories are the best way to be persuasive when the facts are weak, a study finds.

This is because stories are distracting and disrupt people’s ability to evaluate facts.

However, when the facts are strong, using stories actually decreases their persuasiveness.

With strong facts, it is better to let them stand on their own, rather than try to weave them into a story.

Although stories are often thought to be persuasive whatever the circumstances, this study shows it depends on the strength of the facts.

Ms Rebecca Krause, the study’s first author, said:

“Stories persuade, at least in part, by disrupting the ability to evaluate facts, rather than just biasing a person to think positively.”

For the study, 397 people were asked to read about a fictitious new brand of phone.

Half read a story about the phone that had the facts within it.

The other half just read the facts.

Sometimes the facts were strong, e.g. “The phone can withstand a fall of up to 30 feet.”

At other times the facts were weak, e.g. “The phone can withstand a fall of up to 3 feet.”

The results showed that when the phone, like the facts, was strong, it was most persuasive when presented on its own.

But when the phone was weak, like the facts, it was best hidden in a story.

Ms Krause said:

“Knowing that stories may provide the most persuasive benefit to those with the least compelling arguments could be important given concerns about ‘fake news.’

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.”

⇒ Read more from PsyBlog on the psychology of persuasion.

The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (Krause & Rucker, 2019).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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