March 25, 2010

Only Experience Changes Perception

Two times in as many days, I have heard communication professionals contend that knowledge and information will change perception. They are mistaken. I no longer believe that information alone results in behavioral change and change in perception; that all a communicator has to do is load information and facts onto the scale until reaching the proverbial tipping point.

Experience changes perception. Ideally, first-hand experience. My Brownie troop leader admitted to me, a second-grader, that until she found out I was Jewish, her perception was that all Jews had horns and tails. My perception of prison was altered by my spending a day inside the New Jersey State Prison.

Short of first-hand experience, virtual experience results in behavior change. This is why video games are proving effective in helping adolescent cancer and diabetes patients stick to their drug regimes.

The next-best thing to being there? Being transported into a situation through an engaging story. A story with a protagonist with whom you can identify; a story with just enough detail that you can imagine yourself seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting what the protagonist is experiencing.

The April issue of the Harvard Business Review contains an interview with Jane Goodall, which touches on the issue of changing people's perceptions:

HBR: Your work requires persuading people to change when it may not be in their immediate best interest to do so. How do you do that?

Goodall: It's important to tell stories. Sometimes you're told you'll never change so-and-so's mind. But if you can be one-on-one with that person and tell a couple of stories....You usually can't change people's minds by the intellect. You've got to find something that reaches into their hearts. ...

HBR: How do you stay hopeful?

Goodall: ...[P]eople say you can't change somebody who's older than such and such an age, because they're set in their ways. It's not true. If you can find a story, if you can make them think and not be defensive, sometimes the toughest person can change.

1 comment:

  1. Combining experience WITH storytelling--finding a way of experiencing each revealed beat of the story as you tell/learn/hear/portray it first--must be a particularly effective hybrid approach!
    Transporting ourselves into the midst of the story by improvising it ON ITS FEET as a physical performance creates instant empathy. Empathy makes others' experiences our own, and the "others" need not even be real-live people. The beauty of good fiction is that it invites us into the skin, homes, attitudes and discoveries of the characters depicted. When we improvise storytelling performatively we compound the power of fiction. We BECOME the characters when we give birth to them as we write/act them. e can even edit them as we go! The characters become "stuck with us", as my acting teacher used to say. We empathize with them because the experience is not being retold but is being felt for the first time right now.
    Putting ourselves in the immediate, unpremeditated, unrehearsed, and non-repeated MIDST of a brand-new story that we openly improvise exposes us to raw experience and emotion. The potential for behavior change is huge. In improvised story-acting, mere information is the least of it, and a story experienced totally fresh and on its feet imparts its power equally to the story-performer and to the audience.



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