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How do we successfully communicate one message to many people?

This question lies at the heart of communication research, as nicely stated by a dominant influence in communication science, Claude Shannon (A Mathematical Theory of Communication, 1948).

“The fundamental problem of communication is that of reproducing at one point either exactly or approximately the message selected at another point.”

Over 70 years later, this remains a fundamental problem in human communication- one that feels increasingly salient as our mass communication technologies rapidly proliferate. Information is everywhere. What can we do to ensure the important messages rise above the noise? How can we use messages to help increase our well-being and create positive social connection?

Here's how I'm tackling the problem:

Narratives are powerful tools for engaging large audiences. They elicit strong emotional and cognitive responses that motivate behavior and connect us socially. Consider Game of Thrones. Despite an eclectic media market with more original content than ever before, the season 8 premiere pulled in 17 million viewers plus an estimated 54 million pirated views in a 24-hour period (Clark, 2019). This is just one example of a story that has become the common ground for a large, disparate audience that continues to share their thoughts and feelings with friends and develop active communities.

To learn how messages can successfully engage an audience, narratives present a perfect experimental model. Narratives unlock a host of dynamic affective and cognitive processes that keep us invested in the story. I believe the ability of narratives to drive motivated attention is key to explaining the successful communication of messages. Furthermore, they allow us to study complex brain function as it occurs in everyday life in response to our communication-driven world.