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Deceived by the narrative of fiction

This mixture could make the facts of fiction to incorporate to our system of beliefs, affecting how we understand the world. In fact, in fact, there are studies that show that the facts from the fiction that contains a story can persuade the readers, generating beliefs about the world are incorrect.

But, why occurs this persuasive effect? In the year 2007, Markus Appel and Tobias Richter, of the University of Cologne (Germany) published a study that aimed to clarify the mechanism that would explain this persuasive effect. But not only that: Appel and Richter also wanted to determine if the persuasion could change the beliefs of the readers in the long term.

Appel and Tobias preparon a text of fiction , 19 pages, in which is expressed both true ideas about the world, as false (for example: “The dream does not influence the acquisition of knowledge”, “medical examinations did not help the early diagnosis of diseases”,…).

As Appel and Tobias were interested in knowing to what extent these false ideas were incorporated in the participants ‘ knowledge, devised two tests complementary: the first measured the degree of agreement or disagreement with certain ideas of the text; the second of them was the confidence subjective of the individuals in her expression of agreement or disagreement with the idea.

The experimenters used to 81 students of the University of Cologne, which were randomly divided into three groups. One of the groups were provided with a text of fiction different from the experimental that served as a control group. The second group was provided the text is experimental, and after reading it, they urged that they had been the two tests (agreement / disagreement and the degree of confidence). The third group also was provided the text, but the students were invited to return two weeks later to complete the tests.

Appel and Tobias found that students in both experimental conditions, ended up by expressing its agreement with the false information that contained the text. However, the magnitude of this change toward the false beliefs increased over time: of the students who were evaluated two weeks after reading the text showed a greater confidence in the false assertions that the students were assessed immediately after reading the text. What explains this phenomenon?

The authors mentioned the two theories that are most popular that they have tried to understand the phenomenon of persuasion: the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) and the Heuristic-Systematic Model (HSM). Both theories imply that persuasion through fiction text decreases with time, because they assume that the message that seeks to persuade us can only be sustained in time if it is processed in an elaborate manner.

However, these two theories are usually applied to texts of rhetorical devices such as editorials, political speeches and announcements, which differ from the narrative of fiction in a fundamental fact: texts of fiction does not seek to persuade, but to entertain (mostly). Thus, the persuasion that would take place through the narrative of fiction would be related to a well-known fact for all fans to read: the phenomenon of getting lost in a book, of being transported through a mental journey to the world of the narrative.

This mental journey affects the processes of emotional and cognitive: from the point of view of emotion, readers can develop feelings of empathy and identification; from the cognitive point of view, the reader used the fictional world of the narrative as a frame of reference for evaluating the ideas found in it.

These effects of emotional and cognitive can be (to some extent) to suspend doubts about the truth of certain statements, so that you can open the door to persuasion. But not only to the persuasion itself, but rather a persuasive long-term, and that for two reasons:

In the first place, the memory of the source from which we have obtained the beliefs (a narrative fiction) can decay rapidly with time (the phenomenon of amnesia from the source), and it is this consciousness of the source is the one that may prevent against persuasion; in the second place, the intense experiences of the readers when they are transported to the world of fiction may make the content of the ideas there expressed may be more stable and accessible in the memory.

As we say the authors, given that the narratives of fiction are widely present in human cultures, the results of their study have practical implications.

The results suggest that the subtle persuasion that takes place through fiction may have more prolonged effect at the time that persuasion is more explicit than other types of messages (such as ads, speeches,…). And that with the possibility that we are not aware of it. It is not by chance, in this sense, the increase in the popularity of the techniques of storytelling for the most diverse uses (brand positioning, marketing, political,…).

However, this subtle persuasion also implies that the narratives of fiction (and storytelling) can be a powerful educational toolwhich would allow to change the beliefs and behavior of people in important issues such as the HIV or the science education.


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