The expansive effect of storytelling

What we're reading blog post tag imageLast month, we touched upon how storytelling can be used in public legal education and information (PLE) work. Indeed, many in the adult education and social work sectors have long incorporated storytelling into their work.

But does storytelling actually result in neurological and behavioural change? A recent article by Elizabeth Svoboda suggests that it does. According to her article, neuroscientists have learned that the areas of the brain governing empathy, moral sensibilities and emotions lit up at the same time whether someone was telling a story or listening to the same story.

This suggests that people identify with stories on a visceral and emotional level, which – in our view – can help them process and retain the information communicated through the stories.

Apparently, the use of stories and literature can also change the lives of people with past legal problems. For example, Ms Svoboda describes an alternative sentencing program called Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) in which adult offenders meet in groups to read and discuss stories. A study on this project reported that recidivism rates were more than 3 times lower for those participating in the CLTL program than those who did not.

Ms Svoboda concludes that “when story is at its best … its effect is expansive rather than nakedly persuasive.” Storytellers will not find any of this surprising – but we found the fact that the power of storytelling is supported by science an interesting tale.

We’re also encouraged by the notion that story can be used not only to deliver PLE, but also to motivate people to empower themselves and improve their legal capability.

Have you incorporated storytelling in your PLE work? Do you have ideas about how we can help promote and support storytelling? We’d welcome your stories – or your comments – below.

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