HKS Authors

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Lack of trust is a key barrier to collaboration across ideological divides. Across five preregistered experiments, we find that people judge those who support their opinions with narratives based on personal experiences as more trustworthy than those who support their opinions with either data or with narratives about third parties. This is true both for carefully crafted messages where all other content is held constant, as well as for free form messages written by lay participants. Trust does not suffer when arguments based on personal experience are combined with data, suggesting that our results are not driven by quantitative aversion. Perceptions of trustworthiness are mediated by the speaker’s apparent vulnerability and are greater when the narrative reveals hardship experienced by the author. Consequently, people prefer to collaborate with authors of persuasive personal narratives on tasks requiring trust but prefer authors of data-driven arguments when working on tasks requiring cognitive abilities.


Hagmann, David, Julia Minson, and Catherine H. Tinsley. "Personal Narratives Build Trust Across Ideological Divides." April 5, 2021.