All posts in “Psychology”

lego diving into water

Immersed, Transported & Persuaded by Story

How the Right Story Can Shape Our Attitudes – and Even Our Behaviors

A Wonderlab Interview with Melanie Green

Dr. Melanie Green studies the psychology of storytelling. Her research examines how becoming immersed in a story, known as narrative transport, can influence attitudes and change behaviors.

 

Why did you become interested in storytelling?

“Stories have the power to make children go to sleep and soldiers go to war.” That’s a quote from Jens Eder, who also studies the psychology of storytelling. I love this quote because it really captures something important about stories. On the one hand, they can be really simple and very easy to understand. On the other hand, they can have the power to create social change.

Dr. Melanie Green

Melanie Green examines the power of narrative to change beliefs and behaviors.

Your research has focused on what you describe as narrative transportation. What is it and why is it important?

Narrative transportation is the experience people have when they become so engaged – or immersed – in a story that the real world just falls away. Transportation is important because it focuses the attention of the audience, elicits strong emotional reactions and generates vivid mental images. As a result, after they exit the world of the story, the transported story audience tends to maintain story-consistent beliefs. In fact, studies show that those who are more transported into narratives are more likely to show attitude and belief change.

How can transporting stories help to change people’s beliefs?

Often times when we encounter a persuasive message that doesn’t fit with what we believe, our first response is to come up with arguments against the message. But there seems to be something special about transporting stories that reduce that tendency to argue. This concept is commonly referred to as suspension of disbelief or reduction of counter arguing.

Transporting stories can also make narrative events seem like real experiences. There is a lot of psychological evidence that the very best way of changing people’s attitudes is giving them real experiences with an attitude object – a person, place, idea or event about which you can express an attitude or make a judgment. But stories may be the next best thing — stories are concrete, specific, emotional, and vivid and all of those characteristics are similar to the way that our minds store memories of our real experiences. So if we’re engaged in a story that seems like things we’ve experienced, it holds greater weight.

What story elements and factors are needed to change people’s beliefs?

Audiences are more likely to be transported – and, therefore, more likely to be persuaded – if they can relate to a character or imagine themselves in a situation that the character finds themselves in. Research suggests that there are also personality factors and individual differences that influence the transportability of a person. That is, some people tend to become immersed in stories more easily than others. ‘The need for affect,’ which is a psychological tendency to seek out emotion inducing situations, influences transportability. The quality of the narrative itself also impacts transportation; the higher the quality, the more transporting. Psychological fluency, or how easy something is to think about, impacts the influence of the narrative as well.

What are some examples of stories that have created attitude or behavior change?

Stories have the ability to impact attitudes and change behavior in a variety of ways. One project gave children Manga comics where the character gets transported into a world where he has to fight the bad guys by eating healthy food. This led children to change their food choices and select more healthy snacks. As another example, while reading a story about homophobia in college fraternities, those that were familiar with the Greek system ended up being more transported into the story and more persuaded about issues in the story than people who didn’t have that familiarity or background. There’s also some great work by Sheila Murphy showing how a video story increased viewers’ likelihood of getting screened for cervical cancer.

 

Bellanger Gossip statue in Winnipeg

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: gossip as a social skill; the economics of immigration; the view from outer space; living a ‘brain-healthy’ life; political roadblocks.

Hardwired to gossip. Evolutionary psychologists explore the origin of gossip and its prevalence in human society. From The Conversation via Psy Post.

Chasing the American dream. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research compares waves of immigrants over time and how they fit into the American economy. From Gillian B. White via The Atlantic.

“How’s the view?” One researcher explores how seeing the Earth from space can promote a cognitive shift in awareness. From The Conversation via PHYS.

The brain that changes itself. The science of neuroplasticity has led some to believe that we’re not stuck with the brain we’re born with. From Will Storr via Pacific Standard.

Political gridlock. A political scientist argues that negative feelings, not ideological differences, do more to keep politicians from compromise. From Jim Patterson via Futurity.

 

Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/Dano CC BY 2.0

WALL-E watches himself on TV

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: catching stress through TV screens; the benefits of confusion in the classroom; how rough surfaces can heighten empathy; decision-making and the brain; situational vs. moral wrongs.

Catching stress. We can catch feelings of anxiety from seeing other people under stress, even if we’re watching them on a video screen. From Simone M. Scully via Nautilus.

Confusion in the classroom. A recent study found that students who spent more time in a state of confusion learned more than bored students. From Tania Lombrozo via NPR.

Feeling rough. New research suggests that making contact with a coarse surface can temporarily make you more empathetic. From Tom Jacobs via Pacific Standard.

Weighing options. A relatively neglected section of the brain may play a role in helping us recall the value we assign objects when making decisions. From McGill University Health Centre via Science Daily.

Blanket statements. We often make sweeping condemnations about others’ behavior based on moral principle rather than acknowledging that the behavior may be situational. From Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D. via Psychology Today.

 

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Image: flickr/Smitten CC BY 2.0

Case Study: Peace of Mind for Terminally Ill People

Persuasion Strategies: How We Partnered with Compassion & Choices to Make Aid in Dying a Legal Option for Terminally Ill People and Their Families in California

For more than 20 years, advocates had worked unsuccessfully to pass a law allowing the option of medical aid in dying in California.

In 2014, Compassion & Choices approached Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, Wild Swan Resources and Wonder: Strategies for Good to lead public opinion research and to develop a successful messaging and storytelling strategy in California.

Previous unsuccessful efforts made it clear that the issue did not fall along neat partisan lines in otherwise “blue California.” Voters and legislators had both previously rejected efforts to allow this option for terminally ill people.

Our research showed that people’s lived experiences – including their experiences with doctors who had somehow “gotten it wrong” when it came to a terminal diagnosis, as well as watching their own loved ones die, made many Californians uncomfortable with this type of legislation.

Our role: Using Public Opinion Research, Psychological Analysis & Storytelling Strategies to Understand and Shape Attitudes

Goodwin Simon, Wild Swan and Wonder worked in partnership
 with Compassion & Choices to develop the research methodology and messaging strategy. To begin, Wonder led a media audit to determine how the issue had been framed in California and other states as well as social listening research to understand how ordinary Californians talked about the issue.

Wild Swan developed a psychological analysis of the media audit and social listening research led by Wonder. Wonder also led a pop culture analysis to better understand how stories about aid in dying have been told over the past 20 years in television shows, documentaries and feature films. Together, we created and tested message and story strategies in various qualitative research methods led by Goodwin Simon among African-American, Asian/Pacific Islander, Latino and Anglo voters in California.

Goodwin Simon developed an analysis of the qualitative research, which included a psychological and narrative analysis by Wild Swan and Wonder. The analysis helped us to better understand the competing needs, concerns, values and other conflicts that would prevent voters from being supportive and the messages and stories they needed to hear to manage those heartfelt conflicts.

Goodwin Simon, in partnership with Wild Swan, also developed a statewide survey that tested legislative language among California voters. Based on our research, we created a message and storytelling guide that guided Compassion & Choices in their public communications and legislative advocacy.

Complimenting their grassroots advocacy work, we worked with Compassion & Choices to feature the stories of California families struggling with the terminal illness of a loved one and how the law would give those families peace of mind even if they didn’t use the option. Compassion & Choices tapped their network to find families willing to share their stories.

Those emotionally powerful stories helped to generate empathy among reluctant audiences – even those who would never consider the option if they were terminally ill. The stories featured diverse characters including Catholics, Latinos and Republicans.

In an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, civil rights icon Dolores Huerta recounted the prolonged, agonizing death of her mother from breast cancer. In her appeal to legislators, she wrote:

For those caring legislators who could never imagine considering this option for themselves if they were terminally ill – because it may conflict with their values and beliefs – this vote must be especially tough.

My lifelong work as an advocate for social justice has taught me that these difficult moments require our utmost compassion, the wisdom to imagine walking in another person’s shoes and the ability to respect the wishes of others. Those of us who have cared for a loved one and witnessed a lengthy and painful dying process are urging legislators to act now. 

Our messaging strategy also emphasized the many safeguards included in the legislation to assure concerned Californians that the law would work as intended.

Change Created: After More Than 20 Years, Advocates Succeeded in Making Aid in Dying a Legal Option for Terminally Ill Californians and Their Families

On October 5, 2015, Gov. Brown signed legislation making California the largest state in the nation to allow the option for medical aid in dying – more than 20 years after voters rejected a similar proposal at the ballot box.

In his letter approving the legislation, Gov. Brown reflected the messaging framework we developed that had proven most powerful in persuading reluctant audiences – honoring and respecting the decision of a terminally ill person. He wrote:

In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain. I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill. And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.

Advocates are now looking to take the momentum from the victory in California to advance aid-in-dying policies in other states.

Traveler with suitcase

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: life in the liminal lane; dealing with cyber-bullying; the influence of environment on brain structure; understanding the empathy gap; gender labels on toys.

Chronically liminal life. A new generation is redefining the boundaries of the liminal state by suggesting transition is not simply life’s interlude, but life itself. From Pamela Weintraub via Nautilus.

Do not feed the trolls. A Muslim activist deals with Internet trolls by donating a dollar to UNICEF for every hate-filled tweet she receives. From Amanda Froelich via True Activist.

Our flexible brains. A recent study found that while brain size is largely determined by genetics, cerebral anatomy is more strongly influenced by environment. From Kate Wheeling via Pacific Standard.

Empathy gap. In light of the recent attacks in Beirut and Paris, one writer unpacks the imbalance in American reactions to concurrent and tragic acts of violence. From David A. Graham via The Atlantic.

Free to be you and me. In an effort to ditch gender labeling when it comes to toys, Mattel has created the first Barbie ad featuring a boy. From Rachel Bertsche via Yahoo.

 

Robot in the sand

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads; empathizing with robot ‘pain’; emotional expressiveness and gender stereotypes; Ferguson in the classroom; literary trigger warnings; when jealousy and empathy collide.

Robo-empathy. A study finds that people have visceral, automatic empathy responses to seeing robots in painful situations. From Greta Weber via Slate.

‘Manly’ restraint. In a recent experiment, participants viewed emotional restraint as a sign of intelligence in men, but as something suspect in women. From Tom Jacobs via Pacific Standard.

Learning from protest. A course called Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance and Popular Protest at NYU’s Galltin School inspires engaged discourse in an environment of mutual respect. From Errin Whack via NPR.

Reading is risky. Reading carries the potential for emotional and psychological upheaval, offering us challenging experiences that are rarely under our control. From Frank Furedi via Aeon.

When jealousy and empathy collide. A new study suggests we show less neural empathy for those we dislike or view as competition. From Christian Jarrett via Science of Us.

Behind the Mask

#GeekReads: 4 Quick Reads + 1 Watch that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: unlocking our unconscious memories; relating to characters; an optimistic view of behavioral economics; gender normativity; talking about race in a “color-blind” world.

Unlocking the unconscious. New research has identified a region of the brain that has the ability to hide fear-related memories in the brain, as well as the ability to retrieve them. From Christopher Bergland via Psychology Today.

What’s in a word? Egyptian author Alaa Al Aswany talks about how one word in a Dostoyevsky novel captures the empathy-inducing potential of literature. From Joe Fassier via The Atlantic.

Irrational you. A behavioral economist argues that it’s not pessimistic to say that humans are often irrational; sometimes acknowledging irrationality creates room for improvement. From Dan Ariely via Big Think.

Gender essentialism. While gender definitions are expanding, gendered norms still trump many other social norms that structure our agency and lived experiences. From Charlotte Witt via Aeon.

The “color-blind” bind. Research explores the impact teaching “racial color-blindness” could have on identity formation for children of color. From Jesse Singal via Science of Us.

Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/JD Hancock CC BY 2.0

Lego range of emotions

#GeekReads: 4 Quick Reads + 1 Watch that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: trustworthy faces; Inside Out‘s insights into emotional psychology; motivations for violence; psychological roots of partisanship; the effect of gray matter density on empathy.

Written on your face. Jonathan Freeman, director of NYU’s Social Cognitive & Neural Sciences Lab, discusses how our unconscious biases can impact our visual perception of other people. From James Devitt via Futurity.

Animated feelings. Pixar’s new film Inside Out is changing the way kids, and adults, name and discuss their emotions. From Ian Phillips via Business Insider

History of violence. In one author’s search to find what motivates violence, he discovers a unifying theme of moral sentiments aimed at regulating social relationships. From Tage Rai via Aeon.

Walking the party line. Research shows that only party supporters who are affectively and psychologically engaged show evidence of partisan bias. From Aarhus University via Psy Post.

Gray matter matters. Differences in brain structure may affect the types of situations we empathize with most. From Monica Joshi via Big Think.

 

Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/Danielito311 CC BY NC 2.0

Brainy Smurf and Pinky and the Brain face-off

#GeekReads: 4 Quick Reads + 1 Watch that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: unconscious stereotyping; downplaying decision-making anxiety; increasing empathy with Harry Potter; the trap of a trying to hire a “cultural fit”; unlearning bias in our sleep.

Rapid categorization. Dr. Heidi Grant explains that just knowing a stereotype, without even believing in it, can be enough to influence you. From Heidi Halvorson via Big Think.

Emotional gatekeeper. Researchers have discovered a neural circuit that may help us work through emotional cost-benefit decisions. From Massachusetts Institute of Technology via PsyPost.

Polyjuice potion. Walking in Harry Potter’s shoes may help children develop greater empathy and tolerance in the Muggle world. From Danny Lewis via Smithsonian.

Cultural fit. While a cultural fit seems important when considering a new hire, studies show that diverse groups tend to function more effectively than homogeneous competitors. From Rachel Sugar via Business Insider.

Sleep it off. A new study finds that people can unlearn prejudiced assumptions during sleep. From Tom Jacobs via Pacific Standard.

 

Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/JDHancock, CC BY 2.0

Darth Vader reflects on his emotions in the mirror

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: emotional feedback loops; modifying fearful memories to treat PTSD; bonding over anxiety; motivation in the face of uncertainty; measuring the way we make others feel.

 

Emotional mirror maze. Although negative emotions such as fear and anxiety are natural and functional, it is humans’ reflective sense that makes these emotions more complicated. From Gregg Henriques via Psychology Today.

Memory modification. Research on the gradual modification of fearful memories could have an impact on the treatment of PTSD. From Samuel Gershman via Business Insider.

Stress buddies. Friendships are often built on shared interests, but does a shared sense of social anxiety also bring people together? From Melissa Dahl via The Science of Us.

The great unknown. New research has found that uncertainty creates a more exciting experience than certainty and motivates people to increase time and effort in pursuing rewards. Via Coglode.

Contagious enthusiasm. The way you make others feel could be a stable and consistent part of your disposition, in the same way as other personality traits. From Melissa Dahl via The Science of Us.

 

Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/Pascal, CC BY 2.0

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