A Tall Tale: How Stories Can Change U.S. Public Opinion

A Tall Tale: How Stories Can Change U.S. Public Opinion

Matthew B. Young, Matthew Benson Young


A frame is the presentation of an idea or fact, meant to encourage a specific interpretation. In this study, the issue of foreign aid will be framed as stories and facts. A story frame will portray information about a community or individual affected by U.S. foreign aid using the “Universal Story Structure.” A fact frame will consist of big data, numbers and figures presented in five bullet points.

Previous studies have shown that correcting wrong perceptions about aid practices can improve support for aid. My project goes a step further and answers the next logical question; which frame of aid will have the strongest effect. A study carried out by Dr. Paul Zak reveals that narratives following the “Universal Story Structure” change behavior by changing brain chemistry (Zak 2012). My study will be the first to implement these and other innovative findings into surveys about public opinion about foreign aid.

“In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything.” Just as in Abraham Lincoln’s day, today our nation’s course is influenced by public opinion. Thus, understanding which frame best elicits a change in public opinion will provide agencies with a more effective model to change voters opinion.