Take Me Away: Stories That Transport Can Change Readers’ Minds

July 1, 2015

Have you ever been lost in a story?

Have you ever looked up and realized that hours, not minutes, had passed since you turned on your Kindle, and that you are in fact in your own bedroom and not at the palace, about to be crowned queen?

Have you ever rewritten a story in your mind, so that, say, Nick and Daisy get together at the end of “The Great Gatsby”?

Have you ever thought to yourself, “C’mon, Khaleesi, let’s saddle up those dragons and go show the Baratheons how a real royal rules Wester” — even though you know that dragons don't exist, and for that matter, neither do Westeros, the Baratheons nor Khaleesi?

Researchers call that being “transported” through a story. And when you transport readers through stories, you can help them see the world differently.

You can even make them change their minds.

Stories that transport are more credible.

Or so say researchers Melanie C. Green and Timothy C. Brock, two members of the psychology department at the Ohio State University. They posit that:

  • The attitudes we form through direct experience are more powerful than those we form through intellectual enterprise.
  • Stories give us the feeling of real experience, without the suspicions that overtly promotional messages raise. (After all, when you're absorbed in a story, you don't want to stop and analyze the positions it takes.)
  • The more a story transports us, the more likely we are to be persuaded by it — even if the story doesn't explicitly state a position.

 

Research tests reliability.

To test their hypothesis, Green and Brock asked study participants to read “Murder at the Mall,” the true story of a little girl, Katie, who goes to the mall with her college-age sibling. While there, Katie is brutally stabbed to death by a psychiatric patient. The story, the researchers say, “is moving and shocking.”

First, Green and Brock determined how much the story transported readers via a true or false checklist that included statements such as: “While I was reading the narrative, I could easily picture the events taking place” and “I found myself thinking of ways the narrative could have turned out differently.”

Then the researchers asked participants to share their attitudes about violence and mental illness with fill-in-the-blanks questions such as, “Someone is getting stabbed to death somewhere in the United States every….” Responses ranged from every 10 minutes to every month.

Readers are likely to sync their attitudes.

Green and Brock learned some interesting things from the study: Women, for instance, are more likely to be transported by stories than men. And people are just as likely to adapt their positions to match the story's, no matter if they believe the tale is fact or fiction.

But the bottom line is this: The more the story transports readers, the more likely they are to sync their attitudes with the story.

Are you trying to move your readers with facts and figures? Why not transport them — through story — instead?

Copyright © 2015 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.


Master the Art of the Storyteller
Would you like to write, identify, develop and tell stories that will illustrate your points, communicate your messages and sell your products, services and ideas? If so, please join Ann Wylie at “Master the Art of the Storyteller,” a two-day creative-writing workshop on July 29-30 in San Francisco. PRSA members: Save $100. Learn more: www.bit.ly/prsastory.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie (WylieComm.com) works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com.

Comments

No comments have been submitted yet.

Post a Comment

Editor’s Note: Please limit your comments to the specific post. We reserve the right to omit any response that is not related to the article or that may be considered objectionable.

Name:
Email:
Comment:
Validation:

To help us ensure that you are a real human, please type the total number of circles that appear in the following images in the box below.

(image of six circles) + (image of five circles) + (image of eight circles) =

 

 

Digital Edition