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Promoting Healthy Habits? Tell a Story

Researchers at the University of Southern California have been studying how narrative influence health behavior. They wonder if it might not be more effective to present information as a story. Their results thus far show that, in fact, this may be the case.

Narrative communication has been defined “any cohesive and coherent story with an identifiable beginning, middle, and end that provides information about scene, characters, and conflict; raises unanswered questions or unresolved conflict; and provides resolution”.

A recent article published by the Contributor and re-published by US News  discusses a study that attribute the greater success of narrative-driven presentation to 2 key factors: 1) identification with characters and 2) transportation to and absorption in the story. Both of these psychological processes assist with retaining information. Harnessing this to create characters that are identifiable role models is the key, the author says, to reducing health disparity.

Not surprised by this finding? It does seem somewhat intuitive that something with a story-line is more appealing. The point is, it’s not necessarily how we think to present a message with a scientific or health-rooted concern. We tend to rely on facts, or on recommendations. The article suggests that collaboration across disciplines is important in reaching the most beneficial results.

Utilizing narrative can be tricky, however. A 2016 article on the subject, published in Health Affairs, notes some possible limitations to incorporating narrative into clinical practice. For instance, it may be hard to generalize data that is based on narrative–it may not appeal widely nor have equal effect in diverse populations. Confidentiality may be another barrier. These make it difficult, the authors say, to translate good narrative into practice. They do offer some recommendations on how to address the problem. However, it’s clear that there is a gap to be bridged.

It’s a good reminder that sometimes data collected is only a glimpse of the human it represents.

References:

Dohan, D., Garrett, S. B., Rendle, K. A., Halley, M., & Abramson, C. (2016). The importance of integrating narrative into health care decision making. Health Affairs, 35(4), 720-725.

Hinyard, L. J., & Kreuter, M. W. (2007). Using narrative communication as a tool for health behavior change: a conceptual, theoretical, and empirical overview. Health Education & Behavior, 34(5), 777-792.

https://www.usnews.com/news/healthcare-of-tomorrow/articles/2017-03-03/stories-are-better-than-lectures-at-teaching-us-about-health

 

  • Yes stories with people’s faces and feelings are much more memorable than presentations with bare facts…plus we can imagine ourselves in the stories!