Personal Stories Are More Influential Than Facts, Says Study

smartphone story telling

Trending News: The power of personal stories

Stories can sometimes trump facts in this digital age of social media influencers and affiliate marketers. Every time you scroll through your timeline, it seems like there’s someone new in your social media circle trying to tell you about their new favorite service or product. Even worse, they often use a good story to cover up some dodgy details.

New research from social psychologists at Northwestern University suggests that a good story can make you overlook those pesky little things called facts. On the flip side of the coin, Rebecca Krause, the study’s coauthor found that the persuasiveness of strong facts was actually weakened by stories.

That’s quite the double-edged sword you’ve got there. Basically, strong stories boost the validity of weak facts, but strong facts should be left to stand on their own merit.

Men’s Variety spoke to consumer psychologist Bruce D. Sanders, PhD, SPHR about the study to get his impressions. He had this to say: “A good story beats out bare numbers in making the sale. The magic of stories is called ‘transportation’ by consumer psychologists. The shopper is transported into the tale.”

Sanders goes on to say, “Personal stories help us identify similarities in characteristics and experiences. In addition, the disclosure delivered with a personal story provides us the safety to let down our guard, which facilitates both relationships and purchases.”

Related: What your spending habits say about your personality

The authors of the latest study on consumer psychology know that great personal stories lead to better persuasion. The research appears in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and here’s a quick rundown of their findings.

Rebecca Krause and Derek Rucker asked 397 adults to evaluate a set of strong facts about a fictitious smartphone. Then, they were asked to look at a set of categorically weak facts about that same mobile brand. Half of the participants only looked at the facts while the other half were asked to read a story that had those same facts embedded in the text.


When the facts were weak, the presence of the story affected the way people processed information. They were more likely to respond positively even when the facts about the smartphone were less than optimal. Yet, when the facts about the smartphone’s performance were strong, such as a really great feature, a story made that feature seem less believable.

The experiment was repeated a second time with a completely new set of participants and similar results were recorded. In a third experiment, participants were more likely to give their email information for a new flu medication when the weak facts were accompanied by a strong story.

Julia Grosvenor is a Creative Content Manager at Data Science Dojo and she sums up the value of personal stories to social media influencers quite nicely. She says, “the reason audiences for online platforms are so drawn to personal stories can actually be tied back to a theory that is sometimes called narrative rationality. It was coined by Walter Fisher in the 1980s.”

“According to this theory, humans are better at processing information in the forms of stories than we are at understanding facts from a basis of pure logic. We don't all have the time to check the source and run the math behind every statistic, but we have heard endless stories, and we can quickly decide the difference between a story that's relatable, and one that sounds fishy.”

“When social media influences strongly emphasize a personal connection to a product they are promoting, it is effectively the same as an advertisement putting how much you can save compared to the competition front and center in all caps. Stories are at the heart of any good marketing; this difference is that social media has shifted trends back to focus on personal narratives.”

This research is especially impactful considering that many children and young teens list ‘social media influencer’ as one of their top career choices. Awin, the global affiliate marketing company, conducted a survey among more than 2,000 parents in the United Kingdom. The parents reported that 17% of their children wanted to be social media influencers, placing second only to doctors. A separate Awin survey found that 70% of teens who regularly use YouTube, trust their social influencers more than celebrities.

Social media has become the most powerful platform for news, entertainment and retail, giving it unprecedented powers of persuasion. Facts aren’t invincible anymore. When a compelling personal story is in play, facts take a back seat.

Information can be twisted to suit a person’s perspective or agenda, cloaking itself in the flowery words of a savvy social media influencer. That makes personal stories invaluable in selling goods and services. Yet, there is a limit. This recent study points out that strong facts don’t need a story to display their value.

Real recognizes real.

About Freddy Blackmon 73 Articles
Freddy Blackmon is a freelance writer and journalist who has a passion for cars, technology, and fitness. Look for articles on these topics and more. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.