Changing the world with stories

Changing the world with stories

Dies Natalis Master's Thesis Prize Winner: Lotte de Lint

18-03-2024 · Interview

“Do you support nuclear energy? Most Dutch people don’t. And we should change that, because according to scientists, it’s a secure and clean way to generate energy”, Lotte de Lint asks the reporter. No, she is not a lobbyist – she’s a researcher, currently doing her PhD in Wageningen. And just like her PhD, also her master’s in Human Decision Science at the School of Business and Economics (SBE) has been about change. “Whilst I focus on changing people’s nutrition behaviour now, I wanted to see how I can change opinions of people regarding nuclear power in my master’s thesis”, says the recent graduate. In both cases, narratives play an important role. “Humans often have non-rational beliefs, and I thought it would be interesting to find out if a narrative can change their opinion. That was also why I wrote my thesis about it.”

But wait. A narrative, what actually is that? “It’s a fictional story that can help us to make sense of complex issues”, De Lint explains. But whilst narratives are used for example in the political sphere very regularly, they are rarely used by economists, who most often can add important viewpoints to a discussion, she says, but don’t get much public attention – just like in the case of nuclear energy.

Always been a nerd

Would people really change their opinion if they read a positive story about nuclear energy? “That’s what I wanted to find out in a study with participants”, says De Lint. Her idea: not just to evaluate if the participants have a more positive opinion of nuclear power, but to even get them to invest real money into the technology. And it worked out surprisingly well: participants were found relatively quick because the entire experiment took place online. And the narrative did an unanticipated good job as well – participants that were faced with the narrative invested much more into the technology they might have been initially critical about.” Unexpected for some of them? “I don’t know. I haven’t analysed this.” 

De Lint herself however surely came across some unexpected occurrences during her work on the thesis – positive, just as well as negative ones. “I realised that I really like to be busy with a single project for months. Sure, I have always been a nerd and loved academic work, but that was something new for me”, she laughs. But yes, the young researcher also had a few rather difficult days: “My two supervisors came from completely different disciplines. That was handy, because they could approach the topic from different viewpoints. Sometimes however the three of us couldn’t agree at all. We all had strong opinions. But I could still finish the thesis on time”.

More than a pass

And not only that. During the Dies Natalis in January, De Lint received a Thesis Prize, an award for the best theses of the year. “That came really unexpected, I didn’t even know the prize existed. I remember asking my supervisors what I should prepare for, just after handing my thesis in, and they just said: ‘You’ll pass’. Well, later they even asked if I wanted to publish the thesis”.

Thesis prizes

Every year during the Dies Natalis (Foundation Day celebrations), prizes are awarded to students who wrote the best bachelor’s and master’s theses. They receive a certificate and an amount of money (500 euro). Observant interviewed eight of them.

Author: Simon Wirtz

Illustration: Simone Golob

Categories: news_top, Science
Tags: human decision science, sbe, narrative, economist narrative, nuclear power

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