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SXSW Interactive 2014

The Science of Storytelling: Using Data for Impact

This panel looks at the future of storytelling for to mobilize people for social action. Storytelling has been a hot topic for years, and it’s well known that stories move people to act by engaging them socially. This session pushes the edge, looking at how various sectors are using scientific methods to assess exactly how people tell and respond to stories, so as to get them to buy more, to take action, or to avoid antisocial action -- and what social change agents can learn from them. Neuroscientists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists are using fMRIs, big data, and other tools to study how certain types of characters, plots, and images in stories prompt (or fail to prompt) the desired behavior. From the public sector (Lt. Col. William Casebeer at DARPA), to the private sector (transmedia storytelling guru Jeff Gomez), to nonprofits (media researcher Debika Shome at the Harmony Institute), this panel goes beyond the art of storytelling and into the latest science.

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  1. What are the latest scientific and data-driven methods -- in cognitive science, psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and related fields -- to evaluate how people respond to stories?
  2. How can I apply these methods in my own work -- whether it’s film distribution, human rights activism, or political messaging -- even if I don’t have the necessary scientific background or tests?
  3. In what unconscious ways do people respond to stories, and how does science reveal these responses? What are the ethics of telling stories that exploit these unconscious responses to move people to action?
  4. How does the application of stories driven by scientific method differ depending on the purpose, whether to get people to buy goods and services, or to take social action, or to steer clear of antisocial behavior (as in the case of the project of DARPA at the Department of Defense)? How can the lessons of various sectors be successfully adapted by social change agents?
  5. What is the interplay of art and science in storytelling; what are the limits of each and when should I rely on one or the other?



Paul VanDeCarr, Managing Director, Working Narratives

Meta Information:

  • Tags: storytelling, activism
  • Event: Interactive
  • Format: Panel
  • Track: Non-Profit and Activism
  • Level: Intermediate
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