Storylistening effect: Interdisciplinary Research Findings from the Crossroads of Social Psychology, Medicine, Counseling, Education, Folklore, and Communication Sunwolf, Ph. D., J. D

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Storylistening Effect, Sunwolf, 2003


the Storylistening effect:

Interdisciplinary Research Findings from the Crossroads of Social Psychology, Medicine, Counseling, Education, Folklore, and Communication

Sunwolf, Ph.D., J.D., Santa Clara University

Workshop: National Storytelling Conference, Chicago, 2003



At nightfall the cuckolded and damaged king ordered another maiden and her slave brought to his chambers, and took his pleasure. As the night wore on, the slave spoke, “Mistress, if you are not sleepy, tell us one of your lovely little tales to while away the night before I must bid you goodbye at daybreak, for I fear the fate that will befall you tomorrow.” To which Shahrazad replied, bowing to the king, “With the greatest of pleasure. May I have permission to tell a story?” Surprised, the king nodded. Whereupon did Shahrazad smile slowly and say, “Listen!”
The Arabian Nights (Alf Laylah Wa Laylah)

What do we know about the effects of storylistening? Expanding personal experiences as tellers and listeners, you will be given findings from research examining storytelling effects in counseling, medicine, education, and psychology. Strategies for using research to expand your practice and obtain funding will be offered, with models to create research. Learn how listeners become “story-stoned,” and the surprising results of the research of Dr. Honos-Webb and Sunwolf, involving listening to folktales to reduce anxiety following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. This is the nation’s first therapeutic study on the use of storylistening versus personal journaling to reduce anxiety following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, in which Dr. Sunwolf told folktales on 4 successive days directly after the attacks to college students, who were tested for stress and bereavement before and afterwards. This workshop makes accessible to practicing tellers, healers, and educators published cross-disciplinary research—in which one variable was “storytelling.” The use of folktales in medicine, law, psychotherapy, and educational psychology will be reviewed, focusing on studies that have successfully endured scholarly peer review (pointing out research designs, theories used to explain results, and important gaps). The list of studies is designed so participants can share and apply findings in their own practices or present them to the “gatekeepers” who control storytelling program funding. As a result of this workshop, you will: (1) learn what we know about the effects of listening to orally told stories, (2) learn how to critically read a scholarly study on storytelling, (3) obtain strategies for using published research to promote storytelling in your practices and communities, and (4) gain confidence and skills to design your own research that can yield important measurable results about storylistening and storytelling.

Oral tradition has it that while the nightly tales continued to unfold, Shahrazad bore the king three children. After a thousand and one nights of story listening, the damaged king learned both to love and trust, sparing the teller’s life and keeping her as queen. Then did they commence to enjoy life, until they were overtaken by the Breaker of Ties and Destroyer of Delights. Hazar Afsana (a thousand legends)

Published Studies on Storytelling and Storylistening Effects

Andersen, A. (1993). Stories I tell my patients: Watering the roses when the house is on fire. Eating Disorders, 1, 79-82.

Andersen, A. (1993). Stories I tell my patients: The Indian and the chessboard. Eating Disorders, 1, 167-169.

Baumeister, R. F., & Newman, L. S. (1994). How stories make sense of personal experiences: Motives that shape autobiographical narratives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 676-690.

Bavelas, J. B., Coates, L., & Johnson, T. (2000). Listeners as co-narrators. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 941-952.

Bearse, C. I. (1992). The fairy tale connection in children’s stories: Cinderella meets Sleeping Beauty. The Reading Teacher, 45, 688-

Blake, M. E., & Bartel, V. (1999). Storytelling in the classroom: Personal narratives and pre-service teachers. The New England Reading Association Journal, 35, 3-6.

Brett, D. (1992). More Annie stories: Therapeutic storytelling techniques. New York: Imagination Press.

Broderick, C. B. (1995). “That reminds me of a story …”: The therapeutic use of cautionary tales. Contemporary Family Therapy, 17, 17-26.

Crain, W. C. D’Alessio, E., McIntyre, B., & Smoke, L. (1983). The impact of hearing a fairy tale on children’s immediate behavior. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 143, 9-17.

Coll, C. A., Benedetti, A., Carmody, B., Reynolds, T., Brantigan, N., & Wilson-Lingbloom, E. (2001). Unleashing the power of teenage folklore: Research to investigate the power of storytelling. Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 14, 35-41.

Divinyi, J. E. (1995). Storytelling: An enjoyable and effective therapeutic tool. Contemporary Family therapy, 17, 27-37.

Frantz, T. G. (1995). Stories for therapy: The right story to the right person at the right time. Contemporary Family Therapy, 17, 47-64.

Gee, J. P. (1985). The narrativization of experience in the oral style. Journal of Education, 167, 9-35.

Geist, E., & Aldridge, J. The developmental progression of children’s oral story inventions. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 29, 33-39.

Guille, M., & Boersma, F. (1992). Fairy tales as a trance experience: Possible therapeutic uses. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 34(4), 245-253.

Hicks, K., & Austin, J. (1994). Experiencing the legal system: Fairy tale trials for fifth graders. Social Studies, 85, 39-44.

Hill, L. (1992). Fairy tales: Visions for problem resolution in eating disorders. Journal of Counseling and Development, 70, 584-587.

Hoewisch, A. (2001). “Do I have to have a princess in my story?”: Supporting children’s writing of fairy tales. Ready & Writing Quarterly, 17, 249-277.

Hohr, H. (2000). Dynamic aspects of fairy tales: Social and emotional competence through fairy tales. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 44,

Honos-Webb, L., Sunwolf, & Shapiro, J. (2001). Towards the re-enchantment of psychotherapy: The container model of storying in treatment. Humantistic Psychologist, 29, 70-97.

Howard, G. S. (1991). Culture tales: A narrative approach to thinking, cross-cultural psychology, and psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 46, 187-197.

Johnston, J. R., Breunig, K., Garrity, C., & Baris, M. (1997). Through the eyes of children: Healing stories for children of divorce. New York: Free Press.

Kast, V. (1995). Folktales as therapy. New York: Fromm International.

Koenig, J. M., & Zorn, C. R. (2002). Using storytelling as an approach to teaching and learning with diverse students. Journal of Nursing Education, 41, 393-

Kuttner, L. (1988). Favorite stories: A hypnotic pain-reduction technique for children in

Langenbrunner, M. R., & Disque, J. G. (1998). The healing power of stories for children: An annotated bibliography. Storytelling World, 14, 23-25.

Larkin, D., & Zahourek, R. P. (1998). Therapeutic storytelling and metaphors. Holistic Nursing Pract., 2(3), 45-54.

LaRossa, R. (1995). Stories and relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 553-558.

Mandler, J. M., & Johnson, N. S. (1977). Remembrance of things passed: Story structure and recall. Cognitive Psychology, 9, 111-151.

McDaniel, M. A., Hines, R. J., Waddill, P. J., & Einstein, G. O. (1994). What makes folk tales unique: Content familiarity, casual structure, scripts, or superstructures? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 169-184.

McEwan, H., & Egan, K. (Eds.) (1995). Narrative in teaching, learning, and research. New York: Teachers College Press.

Meyers, J. W., & Hilliard, R. D. (2001). Storytelling for middle grades students. Phi Delta Kappa Fastbacks, 482, 7-46.

Murray, S. L. (1994). Storytelling in close relationships: The construction of confidence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20, 650-663.

Orbach, I., Feshback, S., Carlson, G. A., & Ellenberg, L. (1985). Attitudes toward life and death in suicidal, normal, and chronically ill children: An extended replication. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52, 1020-1027.

Penno, J. F., Wilkinson, I. A. G., & Moore, D. W. (2002). Vocabulary acquisition from teacher explanation and repeated listening to stories: Do they overcome the Matthew Effect? Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 23-33.

Peseschkian, N. (1982). Oriental stories as tools in psychotherapy. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers.

Rall, J., & Harris, P. L. (2000). In Cinderella’s slippers? Story comprehension from the protagonist’s point of view. Developmental Psychology, 36, 202-208.

Rueveni, U. (1995). Stories and metaphors as interventions with headache sufferers. Contemporary Family therapy, 17, 39-46.

Sarbin, T. R. (1986). Narrative psychology: The storied nature of human conduct. New York: Praeger.

Sherman, R. (1995). The diamond: A fairy tale. Family Journal, 95, 255-259.

Sipe, L. R. (1993). Using transformations of traditional stories: Making the reading-writing connection. The Reading Teacher, 47, 18-

Smith, G. G., & Celano, M. (2000). Revenge of the mutant cockroach: Culturally adapted storytelling in the treatment of a low-income African American boy. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 6, 220-227.

Stallings, F. (1988). The web of silence: Storytelling’s power to hypnotize. The National Storytelling Journal, Spring/Summer, 6-19.

Sturm, B. W. (1999). The enchanted imagination: Storytelling’s power to entrance listeners. School Library Media Research, 2.

Sturm, B.W. (2000). The “storylistening” trance experience. Journal of American Folklore, 113, 287-304.

Sternberg, R. J. (1996). Love stories. Personal Relationships, 3, 59-79.

Sunwolf (1999). The pedagogical and persuasive effects of Native American lesson stories, African dilemma tales, and Sufi wisdom tales. Howard Journal of Communications, 10, 47-71.

Sunwolf, & Frey, L. R. (2001). Storytelling: The power of narrative communication and interpretation. In W. P. Robinson & H. Giles (Eds.), The new handbook of language and social psychology (pp. 119-135). Sussex: Wiley.

Sutton-Smith, B. (1986). Children’s fiction making. In T. R. Sarbin (Ed.), Narrative psychology: The storied nature of human conduct, (pp. 67-90). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Taylor, S. E., Aspinwall, L. G., Giuliano, T. A., Dakof, G. A., & Reardon, K. K. (1993). Storytelling and coping with stressful events. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 23, 703-733.

Thomas, V., & Piercy, F. (1997). A few useful stories for family therapy. Journal of Family Psychotherapy, 8, 1-13.

Vangelisti, A. L., Crumley, L. P., & Baker, J. L. (1999). Family portraits: Stories as standards for family relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 16, 335-368.

Wallas, L. (1985). Stories for the third ear: Using hypnotic fables in psychotherapy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Wanner, S. Y. (1994). On with the story: Adolescents learning through narrative. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Westland, E. (1993). Cinderella in the classroom: Children’s responses to gender role in fairy-tales. Gender & Education, 5, 237-250.

Wexelblatt, R. (2001). Fairy tale time. College Teaching, 49,

Wiest, D. J., Wong, E. H., Brotherton, S., & Cervantes, J. M. (2001). Postmodern counseling: Using narrative approaches in the school setting. Family Therapy, 28, 1-17.



Williamson, P. A. (1993). Encouraging social competence and story comprehension through thematic fantasy play. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 21, 17-20.


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