Narrative as cognitive scaffolding

A good narrative structures and sequences the key elements of a complex topic, focusing participants’ attention on limited subsets of the ideas so that they’re more able to take each step. This creates Cognitive scaffolding. A reference article, which may provide the same information without scaffolding, may be a more efficient summary of the topic for an expert, but the first step of its comprehension may be too large for a novice to take.

As a narrative progresses, it highlights connections between elements which might be difficult for a novice to observe. It may also remind participants of relevant prior material to draw on. These kinds of supports allow the participant to focus on object-level material initially, without losing sight of the big picture. Over time, they’ll draw their own connections, beyond those the author stated.

Narratives fuel emotional involvement by offering interpretation, possible implications, and connection to an invested author. Over time, the participant may build their own emotional involvement with the topic, but it can be helpful to scaffold this as well.

See also: Enacted experiences amplify the power of narrative

Last updated 2023-07-13.