Stories in Action

James Walsh, Naomi Vaida, Alin Coman, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Stories have played a central role in human social and political life for thousands of years. Despite their ubiquity in culture and custom, however, they feature only peripherally in formal government policymaking. Government policy has tended to rely on tools with more predictable responses—incentives, transfers, and prohibitions. We argue that stories can and should feature more centrally in government policymaking. We lay out how stories can make policy more effective, specifying how they complement established policy tools. We provide a working definition of stories’ key characteristics, contrasting them with other forms of communication. We trace the evolution of stories from their ancient origins to their role in mediating the impact of modern technologies on society. We then provide an account of the mechanisms underlying stories’ impacts on their audiences. We conclude by describing three functions of stories—learning, persuasion, and collective action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-141
Number of pages43
JournalPsychological Science in the Public Interest
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • behavioral science
  • cooperation
  • media
  • narratives
  • persuasion
  • social learning
  • stories
  • storytelling


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