Jonah Berger's Contagious

by Aruna Singh

Why are stories so compelling? Are there any elements of stories that make them more or less memorable?

According to Jonah Berger, stories have always existed to entertain, teach, pass on wisdom, record history, represent beliefs, explore new ideas, share experiences, build community, and express creativity.

If you realize that most forms of entertainment embrace the power of stories, then you will believe this fact. Most video games create a story behind their characters that entrap the video game players into the game. All movies are meant to portray an interesting story, albeit that the story might not be true. And many a time, when you go out with your friends to a concert, party, or bar, that memory becomes a story that you will tell others. So, I think its pretty obvious that people like stories.

Think about a time when you memorized a bunch of facts for a test you had to take. For example, do you think that you will remember 15 years from now, that French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur was credited with investing pasteurization, a process to stop various foods and liquids from infecting people with harmful bacteria? Probably not. Actually, I forgot it already.

Now, do you remember the story from first grade about the notable patriot Paul Revere riding on his horse through the night to warn American revolutionaries that the "British are coming!" Although it has been said many times before that this story is probably not true, I'm sure most of you somehow remember. Why is that? Because stories have a much more memorable quality to them.

For me, the element of stories that make them so much more compelling is the fact that they have a flow. For example, the story of Paul Revere had context, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Therefore, stories follow my natural thought-process in which I think things through from its inception to its completion. However, the fact about the French microbiologist didn't stick with me because it was unattached to any context and it did not follow my thought process. Also, stories are good at capturing emotions and details that bring the information to life. On the other hand, a cold hard fact presents information in its most basic form with no frills. Without the frills, the facts become hard to remember.

The frills of a story are the parts that help you relate the story to other aspects of your life, making it easier to recall the story. In reference to Paul Revere, I could have said, "he was the man that warned the Americans that the British were arriving." There is nothing in that statement to help me remember the details. Instead, I decided to say "Paul Revere was a notable patriot who rode his horse through the night to warn American revolutionaries that the 'British are coming!'" It will be easy for me to recall this story when I am horseback riding or talking about the birth of the American nation, perhaps.

So, in the upcoming Halloween holiday, make a story of your time trick-or-treating instead of leaving the frills out. Then, see if you can tell all your friends a week from Halloween. Have fun!