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Let me tell you a story…

Friday, August 5, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

Everyone loves to hear a good story.  And if you are reading our blog, you probably love to tell stories, too.  A good story is essential to effective communication and persuasion, and that sort of defines our wheel-house.  But I digress…  Sometimes stories are traditional “once upon a time” sorts of tales, but more often they are stories of our day-to-day lives, or about our travels, restaurants we ate at and so on. So why do we tell some stories while others are never told?

Recent research proposes that good stories are emotionally arousing. The higher the state of emotional arousal, the more sharing we will do. Two experiments were done to explore the hypotheses.

In the first experiment, participants watched film clips validated in prior research and known to elicit either positive or negative reactions. After watching the video clips, participants rated their arousal in three domains: “passive-active; mellow-fired up; and low-high energy”. Then they were given a neutral article and video (both pretested to assure neutrality) and asked how willing they would be to share the article with friends.

Participants induced to feel low arousal (contentment or sadness) were less willing to share the article with friends than were those participants induced to feel amusement or anxiety (high arousal). The higher the arousal, the more the article was shared.

In the second experiment, participants either sat still or jogged in place for 60 seconds (a task that has previously been shown to raise general arousal). Then they read an online news article they were told they could share with anyone.

Again, participants who were more aroused (the joggers) shared the information more than did those who sat still. They were also asked to rate their mood and it was found that mood had no relationship to the sharing of the article.

So, the more alert and aware we are, the more we will transmit information we learn to others. This is consistent with what we know about how juries react to stories. We want to evoke what this research refers to as ‘high arousal’.

It brings to mind some common truths about juror decision-making and verdicts:

A Plaintiff verdict requires more motivation than a Defense verdict.  Especially for damages awards, jurors need to feel that they are fixing a problem with the award to make it meaningful to them.

Since we all relate more easily to personal experience than to abstraction, tell a story about people.  Every lawsuit is about certain core issues:

Personal choices

Values

Temptation and a moral conflict.

Whether the case is about a car wreck or a software patent, it is always a story about people and their struggle to achieve their goals in the face of obstacles.  And every juror knows that.
Berger J (2011). Arousal Increases Social Transmission of Information. Psychological science PMID: 21690315
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