Science Explores the Power of Storytelling to Persuade

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I read an interesting article from the Scientific American blog this morning, The Secrets of Storytelling:  Why We Love a Good Yarn.  As the article states, “Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?”

As a legal writing professor, the most interesting part of this research is the way it is confirming, with good evidence, what good litigators have long recognized: “stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.”  I try to teach my students to think about the role of narrative in their legal analysis from the beginning of their work with a legal problem.  Of course, legal arguments must be based upon the law, but the best legal arguments are the ones that find a legal backbone for an appealing story.  (We are fortunate to have on the faculty at Marquette a leading scholar who has written extensively about narrative in legal discourse, David Papke.)

If you are interested in reading more specifically what the science shows, you could start with the “Happily Ever After” section of the article I am discussing, which discusses a few recent findings.  Some law professors are studying this stuff, too.  Kathryn Stanchi from Temple University (who had a long and strong litigation practice before going into teaching) has written two good articles on the subject: The Science of Persuasion:  An Initial Exploration and Playing with Fire:  The Science of Confronting Adverse Material in Legal Advocacy.