We’ve been talking recently about how people listen and learn and think… and how those ways are not well-suited to the big messages about global warming. Here’s a great article about the power of storytelling — and how some nonprofits and advocacy groups are harnessing that power. Maybe it would work for us too?!
University of Oregon professor Paul Slovic showed that the rate of sympathy and willingness to donate to a cause is much higher when one person in a group is identified, but not the group as a whole. We can identify more with a person than a culture, a country or a planet. This makes less personal issues, such as global warming, difficult to advocate for. “The risks of global climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss cannot be conveyed without presenting quantitative data—and yet these contemporary environmental phenomena can have little visceral, emotional meaning for the public unless they are also presented by way of stories and images,” Slovic says.
Wharton School marketing professor Deborah Small, working with Slovic and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University, found that when statistics enter a story, the audience detaches from the emotional pull of the individual, meaning we respond less to data, no matter how conclusive, than to personal stories, which is why so many charities show a singular face, such as a starving child or a caged animal, in their appeals.