Information is more powerful when told as a story

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Here is some information about the power of stories:

If you want someone to remember what you say, make it into a story. According to psychiatrist William Glaser, when someone reads a news report, or a chapter of a non-fiction book, they are likely to remember about 10 percent. If you add visual aids like photographs or video, they will remember around 50 percent. But if you can engage their feelings and imagination with a story that they want to pass on to others, they will remember 95 percent of it.

The scientific explanation for this is that human beings have ‘narrative brains’. We are predisposed to use elements of story to organise and store information.

‘Stories are fundamental to how we think; central to everything we do. Stories are so central to our thinking and communication that we simply fail to notice them. They appeal to our humanity and our emotions. They connect our thoughts; give context to concepts and meaning to data.’ 1

There is a set of species-wide archetypal narrative scripts embedded in the human psyche. 2

“If you want people to learn, you need to communicate in ways that help their brains process, store and understand the data you’re sharing. This is the role of story.” 3

Now here is a story that demonstrates that power:

It was 1991, during the First Gulf War.  The feared secret police arrested Zahra Habib Mansur al-Nasser as she walked home after prayers. When they found she was carrying a Shi’a prayer book and a small portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini, they tortured her to death. A man’s body was found dumped in the desert. From his injuries it seemed he had been half-suffocated, tortured and beaten senseless.

Reports of atrocities were flooding in. Arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, beatings, torture and summary executions. The reports spoke of ingenious varieties of torture, like falaqa, beating the soles of the feet to cause agony without leaving marks. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? No. These people were killed by Saudi police. Similar things were happening in Syria, Kuwait and Turkey.

Amnesty International published a report, full of meticulously researched information. On the same day Amnesty also ran an appeal which simply told the stories.

Each had a different job to do, both were valuable, but the story-led appeal was lead item on that night’s BBC’s Nine O’Clock News.

The information-led report got not a single press mention.

1.Source: Dr. Renée Fuller.
‘Stories: The Brain-Compatible
Way of Teaching Humans’

2.Source: Ken Newman
‘The Narrative Brain’ ,
ACM International Conference
Proceeding Series; Vol. 123

3. Source: Helen Lowe, previously of
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Next: How to research stories that move people