Personal stories trump facts at reaching across moral political divides

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the power of using personal experience in reaching those on the other side of a political divide.

Evidence showing the power of personal story telling is nothing new. But this new study looked at the political context specifically:

We find that sharing personal experiences about a political issue – especially experiences involving harm – help to foster respect via increased perceptions of rationality…

Political opponents respect moral beliefs more when they are supported by personal experiences, not facts…

The personal experiences most likely to encourage respect from opponents are issue-relevant and involve harm. Mediation analyses reveal that these harm-related personal experiences increase respect by increasing perceptions of rationality: everyone can appreciate that avoiding harm is rational, even in people who hold different beliefs…

It is also important to note that personal experiences only have an advantage in moral disagreement – for agreement (whether moral or nonmoral) and for nonmoral disagreement, facts foster respect just as well as experiences.

[Emily Kubin, Curtis Puryear, Chelsea Schein and Kurt Gray, “Personal experiences bridge moral and political divides better than facts”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2021, 118 (6), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2008389118]

It is worth emphasising that this study was not about how to get people to change their views. Rather, it was about an earlier step – how to persuade people that you, with your different views, are worth their attention.

Thank you to Pete Dollimore for highlighting this research to me.

You can read the other posts in the Evidence-based campaigning: what the academic research says series here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.