Friday, May 25, 2007

The Narrative

"By better understanding how life stories are built...people may be able to alter their own narrative, in small ways and perhaps large ones...

"'When we first started studying life stories, people thought it was just idle curiosity — stories, isn’t that cool?' said Dan P. McAdams, a professor of psychology at Northwestern... 'Well, we find that these narratives guide behavior in every moment, and frame not only how we see the past but how we see ourselves in the future.'

"Researchers have found that the human brain has a natural affinity for narrative construction. People tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list, studies find; and they rate legal arguments as more convincing when built into narrative tales rather than on legal precedent...

"During a standard life-story interview, people describe phases of their lives as if they were outlining chapters, from the sandlot years through adolescence and middle age...

"Depending on the person, the story itself might be nuanced or simplistic, powerfully dramatic or cloyingly pious. But the point is that the narrative themes are, as much as any other trait, driving factors in people’s behavior, the researchers say.

"'We find that when it comes to the big choices people make — should I marry this person? should I take this job? should I move across the country? — they draw on these stories implicitly, whether they know they are working from them or not,' Dr. McAdams said."

--Benedict Carey in The New York Times

No comments: