Science communication is a central element of what we do at HDMZ. At its most basic, it is the means by which people are informed about scientific knowledge — giving it an important role in bridging the gap between scientists and the public. For us, our work frequently requires helping a wide variety of audiences understand and connect with the often complex science of our clients.

One approach to achieving this is through the strategic use of storytelling. Whether appealing to the general public or other businesses, stories are a fundamental method of conveying information and strengthening its impact. This blog will explore how storytelling cultivates a deeper connection between audiences and scientific knowledge, fostering understanding, engagement, and empathy.

Enhancing understanding through narrative

Scientific concepts are often complicated, and involve highly specialized terminology. Even when accompanied by an explanation, science, on its own, can be hard to parse, and even intimidating to those who do not have much experience in a particular subject. That’s, at least in part, because the paradigmatic cognitive pathway associated with processing science-based evidence is believed to function differently than the narrative pathway of processing situation-based information, resulting in differences in comprehension.

Logic-based scientific writing often presents abstract concepts that hold independent meaning, in which some level of deductive reasoning is required to follow the connection to everyday life. Whereas, storytelling can help simplify these abstract concepts by providing narratives and analogies that are more relatable to audiences. This can be particularly important for making ideas accessible to people coming into the conversation with different backgrounds — such as those with a limited scientific background or even those who may specialize in a different area of science. 

Promoting engagement and retention

More than just entertainment, storytelling engages the brain in ways that make it easier to process information. And this is especially true in scientific communication. Statistics and facts, on their own, may provide logical evidence. But they can be hard to remember, and rarely reach audiences beyond the more cerebral — in other words, beyond a level that would bring into play emotions and instincts.

Storytelling, however, encourages more active engagement with the information being shared. In fact, some have posited that narrative is the default for human thought, and forms the basis of memory.1 Narrative elements, such as suspense and anticipation, hold audience attention, facilitating stronger recall. Engaging narratives trigger the release of hormones, such as adrenocorticotropin and oxytocin, which increase feelings of empathy. Further, stories encourage participation through imagination and discussion, leading to a deeper mental and emotional involvement in the topic. 

Building connections and empathy

Storytelling fosters empathy by humanizing scientific subjects, and portraying the personal experiences of scientists and individuals affected by scientific issues. Instead of just being represented as an abstract idea, scientific concepts are given a face and a context that makes them relatable. For example, rather than just reading a list of medical terms, audiences can build an emotional connection to the experiences of people with a given illness, by seeing that illness through their eyes.

This connection, furthered by the release of empathetic hormones, is more likely to motivate audiences to take action. In fact, one study found that tracking the hormonal and physiological response to a story about a childhood cancer patient could be used to predict an individual’s likelihood to donate to a childhood cancer charity with 82% accuracy.

In addition to helping audiences understand ideas better, stories can convey a connection by making it clear that the audience is understood as well. By telling a story about a scientific challenge that is true to your target audience’s experiences, you can demonstrate that you understand the obstacles they face. This is a method that can be helpful in building connections — particularly with those in highly scientific fields, in which there can be many specialized and complex areas of focus. In these situations, having a thorough understanding of the science and its related obstacles makes it easier for your target audience to connect to you and trust the solutions you provide.

Navigating the challenges ahead

While scientific storytelling can be a powerful tool, there are also challenges to consider: Sometimes scientific details don’t always fit perfectly into a desired narrative, making it difficult to maintain accuracy. Similarly, it can be tempting to oversimplify a concept to make it more palatable to general audiences. Even so, with a strong grasp of the scientific principles behind the narrative, and a commitment to fostering understanding, stories are a powerful tool in a science communicator’s arsenal.


  1. Schank, Roger C. & Abelson, Robert P. (1995) Knowledge and Memory:  The Real Story.  In: Robert S. Wyer, Jr (ed) Knowledge and Memory: The Real Story.  Hillsdale, NJ.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 1-85.