There’s More to the Story: Both Individual and Collective Policy Narratives Can Increase Support for Community-Level Action

Chris Skurka, Jeff Niederdeppe, Liana Winett


Narratives can convey the need or community-level action to address social problems. Yet narratives often tell stories about specific individuals rather than the broader collectives these problems affect. Some theorists argue that individualizing collective problems inhibits audiences from recognizing upstream causes and solutions. This study tested how narrative individualization (whether a story focuses on an individual case or a larger collective) might produce trade-offs when mobilizing support for community-level policies to address childhood obesity. We also investigated whether narratives using language congruent with political partisans’ morals (equity or loyalty) might minimize polarized responses to such narratives. A large, Web-based experiment with a national sample of U.S. adults demonstrated that both individual and collective narratives increased policy support relative to a no-message control group. Individual narratives promoted policy support via narrative engagement, tender emotions, and external thoughts about the issue. Against expectations, morally congruent narratives did not outperform morally incongruent ones.


narrative persuasion, moral framing, policy support, social determinants of health

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