The Memorability and Importance of Stories

Stories have been around since early humanity. Some of the earliest stories were captured as cave drawings dating back 30,000 years. And while we have evolved in the ways we tell stories (orally, plays, books, movies and more), their importance to us as humans in how we communicate and connect remains strong.

As insights professionals, we have long understood that capturing people’s stories helps us to understand the thoughts, values, and perceptions of people. When respondents tell their stories, they offer a unique way of understanding their lives. In addition, stories allow us to relate and deeply connect to each other. They are human beings’ innate way to understand and communicate the world around them. However, even in an industry that values understanding, stories are often seen as ancillary – a way to add color – and the true power of stories is underestimated.

Stories are powerful well beyond their intuitive entertainment value. The innate ability to tell stories still doesn’t fully explain what makes them powerful. The real power of stories comes from their stickiness. According to the Forgetting Curve, 40% of what we learn is forgotten in as quickly as 20 minutes, and 70% is gone in a 24-hour period. Stories, however, help mitigate the loss of information. Research shows that information told in stories is 7X-11X more likely to be remembered, which is a big deal!

As noted by the Anecdote blog back in 2015, “In 1969 two Stanford professors, Gordon Bower and Michal Clark, set out to test the memorability of words embedded in stories versus a random list of words. Students were asked to memorize and recall 10 sets of unrelated words. The control group remembered the words in any order they wanted. For the story condition, the students constructed a story that contained all the words, one story per set. When asked to recall the words, the students that constructed stories were able to remember six to seven times as many words compared to the random set.”

So what makes stories memorable? Since storytelling has been around for thousands of years, it should come as no surprise that our brains are actually wired to remember them. The way that we meaningfully retain information is biologically built into our systems.

According to Jennifer Aaker, marketing professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, “When most people advocate for an idea we think of a compelling argument, a fact or a figure. But research shows that our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories.”

Given their memorability, this means that regardless of what we are doing, the best way to connect and learn about the values of individuals is to capture information and communicate via stories.

Stories Help to Identify Narratives

As insights professionals, we know about the power of capturing stories and the need for communicating our data via storytelling. However, as mentioned earlier, we often underutilize the true power that stories offer. The benefit of stories that can’t be overlooked is their importance in helping to identify narratives. Stories and narratives are often confused with each other, but there is an important distinction. While stories usually focus on an individual and the things that happen to them, narratives provide the concepts and values that influence thought, meaning, and most importantly, decision making. Narratives drive action (if you missed our previous blog post on this subject read it here).

When we look at the stories of a group of people and combine them with other sources, a full narrative emerges. Within the narratives, unique consumer truths emerge that influence decision- making. This is the core reason Quester believes that understanding our clients’ narratives is the key to driving business results. And it all starts with stories…


  • Patrick Arminio

    As VP of Client Services and Content, Patrick helps clients identify actionable research opportunities to help drive their business results. He is also the self-appointed Minister of Fun.

    Despite missing half of the decade, Patrick loves all things 80’s. Hair bands, power ballads, MacGyver and Mullets…talk about a Golden Era! Coincidentally, he has a very patient and accommodating wife. Summer is his favorite season…sun’s out, guns out!

    Patrick’s favorite thing about Quester is the people. Some of the smartest people in the industry work here. Their passion for language and research is obvious in every project we do. We’re all one big happy family – some would say we are closer than the Tanner’s from Full House.

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