Why Do Stories Change Our Attitudes, Behaviors, And Beliefs?


What do you do to shut your mind off? Do you lose yourself in a good book? Do you cuddle up with Netflix?

For me, it's movies.

Let me ask a different question. Do you think it's important not to allow our younger kids to watch certain shows or read certain books?

Of course. That’s why we put ratings on movies.

We inherently know stories can alter our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors - So why aren't we more careful with what we show ourselves? And, what are the important factors?

When a person becomes immersed and lost in the world of a story, then not only do their attitudes begin to reflect that story but their intentions, beliefs and behaviors do so as well. Psychologists call this narrative transportation.

Three things cause us it - characters we can empathize and identify with, vivid imagery that helps us loose our sense of our physical surroundings, and elements such as tension in the story arc that keep our attention because our attention is a scarce resource.

But that's not all.

Stories with characters and people trigger the release of oxytocin - the hormone that helps us trust one another, bond with one another, and moves us to cooperate with one another. The man who discovered this, Paul Zak, also discovered that character driven stories consistently cause oxytocin release; and the amount released by the brain predicts how much we are willing to help those associated with the story – like donate after watching a documentary.

Basically, the more engaging the story > the more we become attentive to the characters > the more oxytocin is triggered > the more empathy we feel for those characters > the more we want to act to help them.

The release of oxytocin causes you to share the emotions of the characters and after the story ends we continue mimicking their feelings and behaviors. This explains our motivation to workout after watching Rocky.

Stories that transport us into the narrative have the power to change our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors and here’s the interesting part…studies have shown that changes we experience are unaffected by the story being labeled fact or fiction.

So how many of you know a friend who in the past started believing a narrative that was different than something they had previously believed in? How many of you know someone who started believing a narrative whether it was true or not?

In great stories, 99% of the heroes take up the challenge, but in real life the vast majority refuse. To refuse the call means to let the problems slide and not become part of the solution.

What kind of story are you going to tell if it can move people to change?

Whatever you choose – be visual (and here are some tips how). Use vivid imagery and Dr. Zak says you may want to forget using bullet points.

People care about what they help to create, so get your team to help craft the narrative and they won't just care about it, they will subscribe to it.

Emotionally engaging stories inspire post-story actions including the ability to alter people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors and the key pieces for this are tension, vivid imagery, and characters we empathize with.

Now that you know this, go win the day y'all! Sincerely, your #1 Sidekick


Zak, Paul J., Ph.D., Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4445577/

Jack Elkins

Jack Elkins

Hi, I'm Jack. I believe innovation is a team sport and people care about what they help to create. So no matter what you want to accomplish, nothing works if you don't collaborate. I'm a Sidekick, who designs and facilitates initiatives to help teams be future ready, and create solutions without overburdening their workload. Before I started Sidekick Innovation, I was the Director of Innovation for the Orlando Magic basketball team, where I built the NBA's first Innovation Lab. I live in Lake Mary, FL with my wife and two sons.

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