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Tell me a story

BlocksThe New York Times Sunday Magazine features an interesting column by science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker. 

It's interesting both for its content and for the different headlines and illustrations in the print and online versions.

In print, the title is "How to move a mind" and the illustration is a set of differently-colored squares meant to portray a changing mind. (See above to the left.)

Online, it's "The mind of a flip-flopper" and the illustration features the topsy-turvy photos of Messrs. Romney and Obama, pictured below. In other respects, both versions are essentially the same. Romney Obama

Highlighting Romney and Obama's flip-flopping slants the online article toward political junkies. Apparently the print version can get by on its psycho-sociological chops.

The subhead of the print version summarizes the column best: "Changing a strongly held belief has little to do with actual facts."

The column reviews some of the research I've pointed to in these postings and in OtherWise concerning our tendency to examine facts through the lens of our beliefs.  But it adds an interesting angle -- the power of storytelling to connect with the emotions that are the bedrock in which many of our beliefs were planted.

Those emotionally-charged beliefs become an important part of our very identity. 

Koerth-Baker quotes a psychology professor who says stories are more powerful than data because they allow us to identify emotionally with ideas and people we might otherwise see as “outsiders.” Once you care about a character, he says, you can find a way to fit them into your identity.

And in politics, identity is the game-changer. Voters want to know "Is he or she one of us?" 

Apparently, that goes for magazine editing as well. Online, the Times is a political junkie; in print, it's a more sober observer of society.  In this case at least, that's the story it tells.

 

 

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