Why Are Stories Stickier Than Statistics? (NSQ Ep. 10)
Also: are the most memorable stories less likely to be true?
* * *
Relevant References & Research
- Stephen refers to a survey that found that more people can name the ingredients of a Big Mac than can list all Ten Commandments. This survey was conducted by Kelton Research in 2007, and while the website for the survey is no longer live, you can read about it here. Stephen and his Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt also wrote about the study in their book Think Like a Freak.
- Stephen tells the story of “The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure,” a Department of Defense training tool created by Pentagon lawyer Stephen Epstein. Epstein is featured in Freakonomics Radio Ep. 134, “Government Employees Gone Wild.”
- Angela mentions the identifiable victim effect — the idea that a single individual’s story (an identifiable victim) is more compelling than a group of people with the same need (a statistical victim). Deborah Small, George Loewenstein, and Jeff Strnad all contributed to the 2005 paper that discusses this theory.
- Stephen discusses the research of Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist at U.C. Berkeley, who used fMRI to track the brain activity of individuals while they listened to stories. Stephen speaks with Gallant in Freakonomics Radio Ep. 262, “This Is Your Brain on Podcasts.”
- Angela refers to a study on storytelling and tractor safety from the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health — “Stories or Statistics? Farmers’ Attitudes Toward Messages in an Agricultural Safety Campaign.”
- Stephen mentions a study on jury verdicts from the Journal of Experimental Psychology — “Explanation-Based Decision Making: Effects of Memory Structure on Judgment.” Stephen finds it to be one of the best explanations of why stories work so well.
- Angela praises the work of neuroscientist Diana Tamir, who published an interesting study on the connection between experiencing empathy and reading fiction.
- Stephen shares what he’s learned about photography from his wife, Ellen Binder. Binder is an award-winning documentary photographer. Her work is archived at the International Center of Photography.
- Stephen and Angela discuss bystander apathy and the murder of Kitty Genovese. The initial story (which Stephen refers to as “somewhere between a medium and a grotesque exaggeration”) ran in The New York Times in March of 1962. Issues with the story’s accuracy are outlined in SuperFreakonomics. If you’re curious to learn more about the concept of bystander apathy, we recommend listening to Freakonomics Radio Ep. 334, “5 Psychology Terms You’re Probably Misusing.”
- The theory that fewer abortions lead to less crime is tackled in the original Freakonomics book. Stephen Levitt also discusses this idea in Freakonomics Radio Ep. 384, “Abortion and Crime, Revisited.”
- Angela says that she recently read The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. The book was made into a movie in the 1930s, and many white actors played Chinese characters. Anna May Wong, a Chinese-American actress, was passed over for the main role in the film. Her story is told in episode two of the new Netflix series “Hollywood.”
- Stephen references his first book, Choosing My Religion, a memoir of his family’s relationship with Judaism.
- Stephen remembers attending a lecture by Adin Steinsaltz. Steinsaltz is a rabbi and Jewish scholar and philosopher. He’s compiled the modern version of the Talmud and won the Israel Prize for his work in education.