Why we use storytelling
Humans are born storytellers. Humans have told stories for thousands of years – the art of storytelling likely started with the development of languages.
It is easier to remember something when told in story form and stories allow us to communicate through distance and time. Societies are created around stories.
Storytelling is thus an incredibly powerful tool that shapes the world we live in.
Stories & Science
When we listen to (or read) a personal story, our brain reacts differently than when we listen to facts. When we perceive a personal story, we are more engaged, intellectually and emotionally. This leads us to perspective-taking: we place ourselves in the shoes of the storyteller, guess their motivations, and try to predict what happens next.
The effect of this is that we empathize with the storyteller; we take on their perspective. This may help us understand a situation, or see the topic in a different light.
Besides, stories are more memorable and make us understand information better.
Stories as a tool to fight prejudice
Because stories help us see things from the storyteller’s perspective, it promotes understanding. The direct relationship between storytelling and reducing prejudice towards specific groups has been researched in several studies.
For example, a 2014 research by Hawke et al. found a reduction in stigma against people with bipolar disorder, and less desire for social distancing, after the participants watched a movie about people with bipolar disorder. In some cases, this effect was still in place a month after watching the movie.
Other research by Catalani et al. in 2013 in India shows that both a short, illustrated video and a feature-length film resulted in less stigma towards people with HIV/AIDS.
Chin, Rudelius-Palmer (2010) studied the effect of personal narrative on race and ethnicity, and came to the following conclusion:
“The basic power of stories lies in their potential to connect people to one another in fundamental ways that transcend issues of race and ethnicity through uncovering basic themes that strengthen the common bonds of humanity, as well as changing prevalent systems of oppression that perpetuate racial injustice.”
The studies all lead to a similar conclusion: personal narratives in various formats can combat prejudice around stigmatized communities.
Benefits for the storyteller
Storytelling is not only relevant for the person who listens or watches; it also benefits the person telling the story.
The cathartic and therapeutic effects of telling stories are well known. Telling stories helps us reflect and give meaning to our experiences. Because of this, it aids in personal development (Drumm 2013) and promotes resilience (East et al. 2010).
Not convinced yet? Take a look at our latest stories, and experience it for yourself!
- Austin, J., & Connell, E. (2019). Evaluating Personal Narrative Storytelling for Advocacy.Wilder Research.
- Catalani, C., Castaneda, D., & Spielberg, F. (2013). Development and assessment of traditional and innovative media to reduce individual HIV/AIDS-related stigma attitudes and beliefs in India. Frontiers in public health, 1, 21.
- Chin, K., & Rudelius-Palmer, K. (2010). Storytelling as a relational and instrumental tool for addressing racial justice. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 3(2), 265-281.
- Drumm, M. (2013). The role of personal storytelling in practice. Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services.Published on https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/insights/role-personal-storytelling-practice retrieved on 17-11-2021
- East, L., Jackson, D., O’Brien, L., & Peters, K. (2010). Storytelling: an approach that can help to develop resilience. Nurse researcher, 17(3).
- Hawke, L. D., Michalak, E. E., Maxwell, V., & Parikh, S. V. (2014). Reducing stigma toward people with bipolar disorder: impact of a filmed theatrical intervention based on a personal narrative. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 60(8), 741-750.