The Power of Narratives Derives from Evoked Behavior
David C. Palmer
Association for Behavior Analysis International 2018
Abstract The power of stories derives, not from the verbal stimuli themselves, but
from the interaction of such stimuli with the on-going idiosyncratic behavior of the
listener. This interaction produces behavioral effects that go far beyond what might be
expected from a consideration of the narrative as an arrangement of verbal stimuli.
Keywords Covert behavior
Hineline (2018) pointed out that stories play a central role in human affairs. A good
story will be told and retold, perhaps indefinitely through time and across cultures.
Noting that behavior analysts hitherto have had little to say about the subject, he
identified a number of basic processes in narratives that appear to be relevant to the
behavior of both speaker and listener. His thesis reminded me of an episode in Walden
Two in which the narrator reflected on his teaching career:
What distressed me was the clear evidence that my teaching had missed the mark.
I could understand why young and irresponsible spirits might forget much of
what I had taught them, but I could never reconcile myself to the uncanny
precision with which they recalled unimportant details. My visitors, returning at
commencement time, would gape with ignorance when I alluded to a field that
we had once explored together—or so I thought—but they would gleefully
remind me, word for word, of my smart reply to some question from the class
or the impromptu digression with which I had once filled out a miscalculated
hour. I would have been glad to agree to let them all proceed henceforth in
complete ignorance of the science of psychology, if they would forget my opinion
of chocolate sodas or the story of the amusing episode on a Spanish streetcar.
Perspect Behav Sci
* David C. Palmer
Department of Psychology, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA