葉姿伶老師 撰文 (Tzu-Ling Yeh, Adjunct Instructor of AWEC, NTU)
Power of Perspective-taking in Storytelling Towards Persuasion
The issue of persuasion has been researched in the fields of psychology, communication, and political science. In psychology, the relation among information provided, information received, and receivers’ perception are highly emphasized. In the domain of communication, persuasion has been considered a skill fulfilling negotiation tasks via mitigating the tension of audiences. When it comes to political science, the tasks of persuasion have been widely required not only in elections but also significant declarations like presidents’ speeches. The above-mentioned domains of research involve the proper choice of linguistic devices. Linguistic devices come in a great variety, and among these, the power of perspective-taking has been extensively discussed owing to the rise of movie industry, in which perspective-taking determines the audience’s angles.
To begin with, persuasion can be differentiated into different levels: to inform as a basic level; to empathize as a medium level; and to mobilize as a highest level of persuasion. Once the meaning of a persuasive message is formed, the basic level of persuasion is achieved. In addition, whether mobilization can be achieved and evidenced either by the change of behaviors, mindset and habits or the willingness to influence others cannot be completed in the linguistic domain. The other level of persuasion, to empathize, can be dealt with through the choice of linguistic devices (Kuno, 1977). For instance, to tailor the attitude of information delivery with the consideration of persuadees’ emotions raises the interest level towards the information (Frijda et al., 2000). This process functions because creating the effect of empathy in messages delivered assists in mitigating reactance, thus attaining persuasion (Shen, 2010). Therefore, the mechanisms of language fulfill the effect of empathy, thus propelling a greater possibility of greater persuasion.
Secondly, when it comes to how persuasion can be achieved and what media are applied, storytelling is an attractive and mysterious way due to the fact that it works the magic of persuasion often implicitly or secretly as Sir David Attenborough points out, “If you tell a good story, people will hang on your words.” Despite many approaches fulfilling persuasion, stories have been proved influential to recipients’ perception of real existing issues due to the fact that stories can present human experience in a solid structure involving both an individual and a collective (Appel & Richter, 2007). What makes stories more attractive is that the persuasive effects are durable and that the persuasive strength increases over time. Nevertheless, not until did Lim et al. (2005) intend to explain the relation between storytelling and persuasion that more studies theoretically validated the power of persuasion in stories (Guerini et al., 2011) under the scope of Natural-language generation (NLG), stemming from natural language processing dealing with the automatic production of human language. In this computational linguistic view, storytelling is considered capable of fulfilling verbal persuasion. In short, storytelling, with its linguistic features, is a persuasive form of communication. As the above clarifies the relation between storytelling and persuasion, the linguistic devices integrated are to be shed light on.
Persuasion could be considered as an effect of storytelling or a goal of storytelling. The research deals with linguistic features in the written form of stories, excluding other factors like the speakers’ charisma, on-stage performance, personal interaction with the audience and gestures on stage. It is indicated that all linguistic behavior aiming to either change the thinking or behavior of an audience, or to strengthen its beliefs could be seen as a language use of being persuasive (Halmari and Virtanen, 2005). The issue of persuasion could be investigated from two aspects: from the story writers’ linguistic power and from the audience’s perception. This accounts for the assumption that perspective-taking can been seen as an important linguistic device, for perspective-taking allows the storyteller to decide the audience’s point of view.
A mechanism allowing storytelling to reach a higher level of persuasion is to diminish or lessen opposition. This can be achieved through perspective-taking because proper arrangement of perspective-taking can decrease tension or even conflict between a speaker and an audience (Kim & Lee, 2018). The experiments conducted by Kim and Lee reinforced the concept of self-referencing and identification and applied to the domain of perspective-taking. Their results showed that once a story character was identified by an audience, the information delivered would be interpreted less negatively. Here it is indicated that perspective-taking is applicable towards the higher possibility of persuasion. In addition, Hoeken (2016) indicates creating similarity for the audience to perceive is a mechanism for working narrative persuasion, and this can be attained through story perspective-taking, counted as a storytelling technique.
Perspective-taking originates from the filming works deciding what to be seen by the audience and what to be hidden deliberately (Chatman, 1980); in stories, this can be achieved by many approaches including the selection of story scenes, but mainly the alteration of the grammatical first person or third person. The use of grammatical person has been researched in the discourse of political science, seen from the scope of “deixis” which can be grouped into categories like person deixis (first and second person pronouns) and spatial deixis (e.g., “here” and “there”) (Zupnik, 1994). Also, proper consideration of the choice of pronouns can attain the persuasive function driven by the act of inviting hearers into the speaker’s perspective, and this has gained attention especially in English due to a lack of distinction between the inclusive and the exclusive pronominals (ibid.). The grammatical first person walks the audience into the speaker’s position, thus serving as the deictic center and proven as a powerful driver of creating similarity for the audience (Hoeken, 2016). However, under the context of persuasive messages, the choice of first person/ third person should be conditional, and thus the effect of persuasion in first person over third person texts has been proven inconsistent (Kim & Lee, 2018).
For centuries, stories have been narrated in different languages, in various themes, and for all walks of audience. For the purpose of recreation or persuasion, stories have been functioning as media of communication. To inform, to empathize, and to mobilize are considered the degrees of persuasion. To fulfill persuasion, especially to a higher degree, linguistic devices are intensively adopted. Among these linguistic features, the alteration in perspective-taking leads the audience to appreciate works from different lights.
Appel, M., & Richter, T. (2007). Persuasive effects of fictional narratives increase over time. Media Psychology, 10(1), 113-134.
Chatman, S. B. (1980). Story and discourse: Narrative structure in fiction and film. Cornell University Press.
Frijda N.H., Manstead, A. S. R., & Bem, S. (ed.) (2000). Emotions and belief: How feelings influence thoughts. Cambridge University Press.
Guerini, M., Stock, O., Zancanaro, M., O'Keefe, D., Mazzotta, I., Poggi, I., Lim, M. Y., & Aylett, R. (2011). Approaches to Verbal Persuasion in Intelligent User Interfaces. Cognitive Technologies.
Halmari, H., & Virtanen, T. (ed.) (2005). Persuasion across genres: A linguistic approach. John Benjamins Publishing.
Hoeken, H., Kolthoff, M., & Sanders, J. (2016). Story perspective and character similarity as drivers of identification and narrative persuasion. Human Communication Research, 42(2), 292–311,fromdoi.org/10.1111/hcre.12076
Kim, H. K., & Lee, T. K. (2018). Curious or afraid of using study drugs? The effects of self-referent thoughts and identification on anticipated affect. International Journal of Communication, 12, 22.
Kuno, S., & Etsuko Kaburaki. (1977). Empathy and Syntax. Linguistic Inquiry, 8(4), 627-672. Retrieved April 16, 2021,from www.jstor.org/stable/4178011
Lim M. Y., Aylett, R., & Jones, M. C. (2005). Affective and Persuasive Guide, Workshop on Communication and Emotion, HUMAINE Network of Excellence, Trento, November 17-18, 2005.
Shen, L. (2010). Mitigating Psychological Reactance: The Role of Message‐Induced Empathy in Persuasion. Human Communication Research, 36: 397-422.
Zupnik, Y. J. (1994). A pragmatic analysis of the use of person deixis in political discourse. Journal of pragmatics, 21(4), 339-383.