Philippine’s presumptive president Rodrigo Duterte made news once more for catcalling a news reporter in his recent press conference. As playful as the incident was, there existed a great divide among the Filipino netizens whether this is appropriate or not, and whether the media has taken Duterte out of context once again just to sell the juicy bits of what he say.
This article gives a quick study on this incident (and other sensational cases) that will explain why saying Duterte is wrongful and innocent are both correct.
As provoking and vague as this article’s headline maybe, it just goes to show that sensational headlines will get you to this page.
Sensational Sensationalism – How To Sell Your Story
“Sensationalism seems to sell more than wonderful-positive news.”
– Michael Jackson, Singer-songwriter (1958 – 2009)
Ever wondered why there’s so much bad news in the world? That is because bad news sell more than the good ones. And if it sells, it pays the bills.
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)‘s creators claim a connection between the neurological processes (neuro-), language (linguistic) and behavioral patterns learned through experience (programming), and that these can be changed to achieve specific goals in life. Forming stories are part of an NLP strategy to get people do actions that you expect them to do. In these stories, it is best to invoke emotions so that it would create more impact to the audience. And one method to invoke emotions is through sensationalism.
In Susan Weinschenk‘s “How to Get People to Do Stuff: Master the art and science of persuasion and motivation,” she discusses that when we read or hear a story, our brains react partly as though we’re experiencing the story
Think about your communication with other people throughout a typical day. You wake up in the morning and tell your family about a dream you had. At work you tell a coworker about what happened at the new product design meeting the day before. At lunch you tell your friend about a family reunion you have coming up and your plans to take time off to go. After work you speak with your neighbor about the dog you encountered while you were on your evening walk.
And so it goes that most of our daily communication is in the form of a story. It’s interesting how unaware and unappreciative most people are about the major way we communicate. Stories involve many parts of the brain. When we’re reading or listening to a story, there are many parts of our brain that are active:
- The auditory part of the new brain that deciphers sound (if the story is being listened to)
- Vision and text processing (if the story is being read)
- All the visual parts of the brain (as we imagine the characters in the story)
- And, often, the emotional part of the midbrain.
A story not only conveys information, it allows us to feel what the character in the story feels. Tania Singer’s research on empathy (Singer 2004) studied the parts of the brain that react to pain. She discovered that there were some parts of the brain that processed where the pain came from and how intense the pain really was. Other parts of the brain separately processed how unpleasant the pain felt and how much the pain bothered the person feeling it. Then she asked participants to read stories about people experiencing pain. When participants read stories about someone in pain, the parts of the brain that processed where the pain comes from and how intense it is were not active, but the other areas that process how unpleasant the pain is were active.
The research says that we literally experience at least a part of other people’s pain when we hear a story about pain. Likewise, we experience at least a part of other people’s joy, sadness, confusion, and knowledge.
Stories then are how we understand the experience of others in our community.
Anecdotes versus Stories
Because of the way our brains react to stories, stories are the best way to communicate information. We’re more likely to be committed, take action, and make a decision if we’ve experienced something concretely ourselves. Stories simulate actual experience. If you tell people a story, they’re more likely to be willing to take action on the information than if you just present data.
Let’s say you have to make a presentation to the department heads at work about your latest conversations with your customers. You want the group to agree to fund a new project based on the data. You interviewed 25 customers and surveyed another 100, and have lots of important data to share. Then you’re going to ask for funding.
Your first thought might be to present a summary of the data in a numerical/statistical/data-driven
format, for example:
- 75 percent of the customers we interviewed…
- Only 15 percent of the customers responding to the survey indicated…
To most, this data-based approach will be less persuasive when presented rather than being presented with stories and anecdotes. Your presentation will be more powerful if the given data is also accompanied by one or more anecdotes , such as, “Mary M from San Francisco shared the following story about how she uses our product”; and then go on to tell Mary’s story.