The Power of Digital Storytelling to Influence Human Behaviour

Mark Grindle

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (not awarded by UHI)

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The aim of this multi-disciplinary research was to explore the power of digital, interactive or participatory storytelling to influence human behaviour in the context of public health. It addressed three related questions:

RQ1: Does digital storytelling have the power to influence human behaviour?
RQ2: If digital storytelling can influence human behaviour then how might it do so?
RQ3: Is a ‘digital storytelling framework’ feasible as an approach to behaviour change?

Four linked qualitative studies were conducted: a scoping review, in-depth interviews with 11 international ‘digital storytellers’, two case studies of ‘digital storytelling designed to influence human behaviour’ and six focus groups with 35 adolescent ‘digital story participants’. The research found that:

RA1: Digital storytelling appears to influence human behaviour.
RA2: Digital storytelling appears to influence by engaging at ever deepening emotional and non-conscious levels. Commerce appears to understand and embrace this power: But public health appears to rely on traditional uni-directional, non-participatory message led approaches and appeals to cognition. This presents threats and opportunities to public health.
RA3: The proposed ‘digital storytelling framework’ is feasible and desirable as a behaviour change paradigm.

The thesis concludes that Digital Storytelling appears to influence human behaviour. It appears to derive its power to influence by facilitating unprecedented depths of emotional engagement potentially en route to behaviour change. The current imbalance in how commerce and public health corral the power of digital storytelling suggests that the latter might embrace its potential; and tougher regulation might constrain how the former uses it to market harmful products. The proposed digital storytelling framework makes a valuable creative, analytical and critical contribution to both of these ends. Its core principles have informed the design of numerous story-led digital health interventions; and they now sit at the core of a counter-marketing campaign to reduce harmful effects of marketing on children’s health.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Stirling
  • Hastings, Gerard, Supervisor, External person
  • Williams, Brian , Supervisor, External person
Award date26 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sept 2014


  • Digital Storytelling
  • Behaviour Change
  • Interactive Storytelling
  • Interactive Narrative
  • Health
  • policy


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