Based on a True Story: Making People Believe the Unbelievable

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Forthcoming

22 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2017 Last revised: 24 Mar 2017

See all articles by Francesca Valsesia

Francesca Valsesia

University of Washington - Michael G. Foster School of Business

Kristin Diehl

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business

Joseph Nunes

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business

Date Written: March 5, 2017

Abstract

Storytelling is important to how people construct reality and interact with others. This research contributes to our understanding of why some stories are evaluated more positively than others, specifically how truth-based labeling (TBL), stating the narrative is “based on true events,” influences evaluations. Past research has failed to find an unequivocal effect of knowing a story is true on a range of responses including enjoyment, transportation, and emotional reactions. We contend this was due to past work not considering how TBL might interact with the nature of the story itself. One aspect of the story is its typicality (i.e., whether the story falls within the parameters of our past and present experiences). We propose, and show, across experimental and correlational data, that only when a narrative is low in typicality to begin with (i.e., includes elements inconsistent with people’s past and present experiences) that TBL increases the perceived plausibility of a story and enhances the audience’s response. Conversely, when events in a story are already high in typicality, TBL has little effect on the perceived plausibility of the story, and in turn how the audience responds. We further provide mediational evidence for perceived plausibility as the underlying mechanism.

Keywords: Story-Telling, Narratives, Story Evaluation, Based on a True Story, Perceived Plausibility, Typicality

JEL Classification: M30, M31, L82

Suggested Citation

Valsesia, Francesca and Diehl, Kristin and Nunes, Joseph, Based on a True Story: Making People Believe the Unbelievable (March 5, 2017). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2927809

Francesca Valsesia (Contact Author)

University of Washington - Michael G. Foster School of Business ( email )

Box 353200
Seattle, WA 98195-3200
United States

Kristin Diehl

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business ( email )

701 Exposition Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Joseph Nunes

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business ( email )

701 Exposition Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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