Stories as evidence

Kathleen Murphy-Hollies, Lisa Bortolotti

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People often use personal stories to support and defend their views. But can a personal story be evidence? A story tells us that a certain event can happen and has already happened to someone, but it may not always help us understand what caused the event or predict how likely that event is to happen again in the future. Moreover, people confabulate. That is, when they tell stories about their past, they are likely to distort reality in some way. When people who lack access to what motivated past behaviour are asked why they made a choice, they tend to offer plausible considerations in support of that choice, even if those considerations could not have played a motivating role in bringing about their behaviour. When people experience impairments in autobiographical memory, they tend to fill the gaps in their own story by reconstructing significant events to match their interests, values, and conception of themselves. This means that people often offer a curated version of the events they describe. In this paper, we argue that the pervasiveness of confabulation does not rule out that personal stories can be used as evidence but invites us to reflect carefully about what they are evidence of. And this is especially important in the context of digital storytelling, because stories shared on online platforms can exert even greater influence on what people think and do.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3
Number of pages12
JournalMemory Mind & Media
Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2021


  • memory
  • confabulation
  • stories


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