Persuasion Pathways: A Model of the Narrative Persuasion Process




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This dissertation contributes knowledge about narrative persuasion to two distinct fields— narrative persuasion studies and composition. Humans have used storytelling throughout history to achieve persuasive goals with intermittent success. This dissertation seeks to answer why narrative discourse has such persuasive power, and why that power varies. It does this by building a comprehensive model of the scattered research from the burgeoning field of narrative persuasion studies. The model makes the dispersed scholarship of narrative persuasion studies easier for uninitiated scholars to understand and engage. It collects the components of narrative persuasion into two major groups: persuasion pathways and modulators of those pathways. The model argues that narratives are persuasive because humans comprehend them with a limited cognition that inherently favors narrative processing. Readers build a model of a narrative’s story in their minds and then psychologically transport into that model, where they react to the story with thoughts and feelings as authentic as the ones they experience in the real world. This process of building, maintaining, and reacting to their model of the story opens readers to at least seven ways of being persuaded. These seven persuasion pathways are the experience of imagery, subconsciously learning knowledge, involving themselves with characters, elaborating the story, reflecting personal memories onto the story, reprising the storyworld, and reducing contrary cognitive processes while mentally modeling the story. A myriad of psychological and contextual factors—collectively referred to as modulators—can help the persuasion process by improving readers’ ability to construct and transport deeply into their story models. Conversely, modulators can hinder the persuasion process by impeding readers’ efforts. As well as synthesizing the scholarship of narrative persuasion studies into a unified model, this dissertation also provides a distinctly literary contribution to the field that is dominated by social science methodologies. It uses close reading of celebrated narratives to identify multiple discourse techniques that modulate narrative persuasion, which the field of narrative persuasion studies has not yet researched. For the field of composition, this dissertation argues that narratives are persuasive discourse and explains how that persuasion occurs. This study additionally exposes the composition discipline’s longstanding mistreatment of narrative as merely informative or expressive discourse, and it argues why narrative persuasion research presented here should be adopted and developed by composition scholars.



Language, Rhetoric and Composition, Literature, English