A Summit on Storytelling

“In contrast to our vast knowledge of how science and logical reasoning proceed, we know precious little in any formal sense about how to make good stories.” — Jerome Bruner, psychologist

In October 2016, members of the faculty and staff at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications attempted to begin to answer the charge by psychologist Jerome Bruner to further develop what we know of the scholarship in what makes stories effective. We wanted to dive deep in the knowledge and research that is out there, find commonalities across disciplines and make the intelligence actionable for practitioners.

Scenes from the October 2016 “summit on storytelling” conversation at the University of Florida.

Over a two-day period, we convened nearly a dozen scholars and members of our faculty to hold discussions of scholarship across disciplines, facilitated by working journalists.

Unlike other academic gatherings, our purpose wasn’t to present the scholars’ latest research. Nor did we focus just in the wheelhouse of communications scholarship. We asked these cross-disciplinary scholars to work in a series of small groups discussing questions posited by the moderators.

The participating scholars included:

KEITH BOUND, University of Nottingham 
Physiological responses to suspense

SARA COBB, George Mason University 
Narrative and conflict resolution

MELANIE GREEN, University of Buffalo 
Narrative to change beliefs

SRI KALYANARAMAN, University of Florida 
Technological influence in persuasion / psychosocial effects

RAYMOND MAR, York University
Processes and consequences of imagining oneself in narratives

AGELIKI NICOLOPOULOU, Lehigh University
Narrative and cognitive, socio-emotional and identity development

CAREN S. NEILE, Florida Atlantic University 
Storytelling (South Florida Storytelling Project)

JESSICA SENEHI, University of Manitoba
 Role in the narrative, story and art in conflict resolution

NATALIE UNDERBERG-GOODE, University of Central Florida 
Digital ethnography

FRANK WADDELL, University of Florida 
Psychological effects of media

The conversations were facilitated by CYNTHIA BARNETT, environmental journalist and author, ALEX BARRERA and STEPHEN KEPPEL of Fusion, and SCOTT MONTGOMERY of NPR.

Following the summit of scholars, UF personnel synthesized the nearly 20 hours of recorded discussions from the plenary and breakouts. Findings were curated and further research literature review was conducted to develop “The Science of Story Building.” This effort is an attempt to make the findings from the summit actionable for journalists and communicators. We have workshopped this effort, which we call a “living lit review” and have presented the findings to nearly a dozen industry presentations or trainings conducted by the UF team. We also periodically curate findings under #storyscience on Twitter.


The initial discovery and the summit were made possible in part through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as the closing event for The Innovators Series at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

Photos by William England.