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PRSummit: Want To Change Minds? Narrative Trumps Facts

Asia Pacific, EMEA, Global, North America

Paul Holmes 13 Nov 2013

MIAMI—In changing minds, presenting compelling factual evidence doesn’t work, and may actually be counterproductive, Ogilvy Public Relations chief executive Christoper Graves told the Global Public Relations Summit this morning, in a panel on “Mental Mines and Changing Minds,” which drew on recent research in neuroscience to make the case that storytelling and narrative are more effective in shifting opinion

Citing evidence that shows people beliefs often harden when they are confronted with evidence that their position is erroneous, Graves suggested that the communications industry’s traditional approach to changing minds—presenting facts, dispelling myths—is often ineffective.

“People are not just rejecting the facts,” explained Melanie Green (pictured), of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They are looking at it and deconstructing it, saying the sample for the survey isn’t quite right or the questions were loaded. Once we have committed to an attitude there are cognitive reason we don’t want to change—how many other related positions do we have to take. It’s related to our social groups too: if everyone in my social circle believes in this do I really want to change my mind?”

In short, there is mounting evidence that stories are more useful in changing minds than facts.

“Narratives are important to all of us,” said David McRaney, author and journalist (You Are Not So Smart). “Your self is a narrative. That narrative is a coherence engine tells you who you are where you are in the world.

“People construct narratives all the time, in moments of ambiguity. We are the unreliable narrators of our own lives. But when you threaten those narratives, you are threatening their identity. You are challenging them to rewrite the character they have invented for themselves, and they move straight to defending things they might not normally defend.”

That can be as simple as defending Xbox or Playstation because you belong to a “tribe” that prefers one over the other.

But why do stories work so well?

“What we have fond is that story can transport people into another narrative world,” said Green, explaining why a short film focusing on the father of a lesbian pride was more effective at changing minds than a long debate about the evidence about gay marriage. “It’s immersive and enjoyable, and by taking the perspectives of these people we can create connections and use our empathy to identify with other people.”

McRaney added: “People who are against same-sex marriage can’t identify with gay marriage, but they can identify with the father who overcame his reservations because of love for his family. We love characters who overcome challenges or go through struggles and are changed by that.”


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