Monday 10 October 2016

Long-Term Potential or Just Another Bad Storyteller?

Could the best pick up line be, “I have to tell you what happened to my friend last weekend”? According to findings by Donahue and Green (2016), this very well may be the case as it seems that being a great storyteller can have impactful consequences on one’s relationships. 

Donahue and Green (2016) conducted three studies in which they examined the effect of storytelling ability on perceptions of an individual’s attractiveness, examining both short-term and long-term romantic relationships. In the first study, undergraduate students were given a picture of someone of the opposite gender and a biographical sketch. The sketch included neutral background information as well as the person’s story telling ability: good, moderate, poor, or no information. Participants then rated the individual’s physical attractiveness and attractiveness in terms of a casual date, long-term partner, or friend. They found that boasting good storytelling abilities made men more attractive to women, but only in terms of a long-term partner. In other words, men who are skilled in storytelling appear to have an advantage in attracting long-term partners. 

One limitation of the first study was that participants were simply told of the quality of the storyteller rather than experiencing the story being told. In the second study, with a new set of participants, half of the individuals read an effectively-told story and the other half read an ineffectively told account. Also, the degree to which participants felt transported or engaged by the story was measured. The results of this study were consistent with the first: women rated skilled male storytellers as more attractive than poor storytellers, with respect to a long-term relationship. For the other measures (e.g. physical attractiveness, casual date, and friend), the quality of the storyteller did not impact women’s ratings of attractiveness. In terms of men’s attraction to women, a female’s storytelling ability was irrelevant to men for all measures of attractiveness. In addition, attractiveness was not influenced by engagement with the story.  

In the final study, the researchers investigated whether storytelling ability might reflect perception of increased status. Participants rated the degree to which the target individual exhibited characteristics such as popularity, good leadership, and admiration. These results revealed that perceived status was a substantial mediator between storytelling ability and attractiveness of a long-term mate. In other words, effective storytelling led to perceptions of higher status because this very skill is interpreted to reflect a person’s ability to gain resources. Someone who is a good storyteller may be more capable of influencing others or gaining prestigious positions. So, from an evolutionary perspective, higher status could indicate greater means and thus a better chance of survival, which would be attractive to another potential mate. 

So the next time you find yourself on the lookout for that special someone, be mindful that entertaining her with a great story could mean long-term potential in her eyes. 

Posted by Michelle Vinitsky


Donahue, J. K., Green, M. C. (2016). A good story: Men’s storytelling ability reflects their attractiveness and perceived status. Personal Relationships, 23, 199-213.

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