The government is researching storytelling

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Just a tidbit today. I’m afraid the paying job has used up my quota of brain power for the week. But I ran across this fascinating fact a couple of weeks ago and wanted to share it:

A U.S. government agency called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which develops new technology for the military, put out a request for research on narrative – that’s right. Storytelling. And I quote:

DARPA is soliciting innovative research proposals in the areas of (1) quantitative analysis of narratives, (2) understanding the effects narratives have on human psychology and its affiliated neurobiology, and (3) modeling, simulating, and sensing-especially in stand-off modalities-these narrative influences. Proposers to this effort will be expected to revolutionize the study of narratives and narrative influence by advancing narrative analysis and neuroscience so as to create new narrative influence sensors, doubling status quo capacity to forecast narrative influence. [check out the source here]

Okay, aside from consternation over yet another thing our tax dollars are paying for, this gives me three different feelings:

  • Fear. This is a power I don’t want the government to have.
  • Comfort. If I had to pick one country to have this power it would be mine (sorry my non-American friends, I admit I’m biased).
  • Self-satisfaction. I TOLD you storytelling could be a powerful weapon! See? The government agrees with me!!!

What do you think? Tell me in the comments!


About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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  1. This is indeed a scary prospect. I agree with you completely about the power of storytelling and narrative. I cannot, however, agree with your second point, and I’m not just saying this because I’m not American. It would be incredibly dangerous to place this power solely in the hands of any government, no matter how ethically sound they claim to be.

    It seems to me that the US government might want to gain a deeper understanding of the psychology of narrative for the purpose of constructing very deliberate stories to relay to the general public (and the world).

    AKA: propaganda.

  2. I have to agree with Thesaurus, not only because I’m not an American, but because of the power of narrative being used for nefarious ends. The power of propoganda is well documented – particularly in the 20th century and it terrifies me that the US would seek to combine these new faculties with the current disinformation campaign they run re: war on terror. No government should have that power.

    • I suspect education is the only way to fight it. We can’t make governments, etc. unlearn it, so we need to teach everyone else the power of storytelling, so they can recognize and resist its influence if necessary.

  3. Yikes! Well, your responses were exactly mine, save that your third was my first, your first my second and your second, my third.

    I will say this, though… they may be trying to bring a quantitative quality to this research, but it isn’t as if this is really something new. This incredible power is already being used all over the world, and has been since people first began to tell stories. Terrorist organizations use it constantly, as to legitimate governments worldwide. I do not think that the U.S. is going to suddenly gain a power others do not possess. …though the research is creepy.
    In short, the power of stories defies anyone’s control. Even when a government holds cast-iron sway over what kinds of stories are told, there are stories told in in whispers, that cover the land like a prairie fire. Mankind cannot master the universe, and by the same token, we cannot master the universe that exists in imagination.

  4. aahhh, memories, well after a few attempts to come back, ive managed one brand new sloppy posst. Its still got that new post smell ahhhhhh. In other news, glad to see you still writing. im, well trying. i got no quit in me so i guess ill have to try harder. anyway, i gotta fly so tell me what you think of my new post, and DARPA? hmm. it is a little scary. see ya round.

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