The Science behind Storytelling

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The Science behind Storytelling

Tatiana A. Dias
August 7th, 2017

As social creatures, we rely on others for our survival and happiness. Empathy is vital for humans since it enables us to understand how others are probably going to respond to a circumstance.


Ten years ago, oxytocin was found to be a key – “it’s safe to approach others” – signal in the brain. This neurochemical is produced when we are trusted or shown kindness, and it stimulates cooperation with others. In line with this, many people are aware of the importance of feelings in shaping human behaviour. However, less is known about the possible impacts of stories and storytelling to our everyday lives. How does storytelling influence our behaviour? To understand, let’s have a look at the science.


How does Storytelling activate our brains?

When you listen to a well-told story, the way our brains work radically changes. If we were to put you in an MRI machine and tell you facts, the parts of your brain that would light up are called Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. These are the data processing regions of your brain. However, when you are being told a story, the parts of your brain that respond are those that would if you were inside the story and sensory areas, along with the language processing parts of the brain. Even more impressive is the fact that this effect also happens to the person telling the story. In this way, if the story is being told face to face, both the storyteller’s and the audiences’ brains start lighting up in sync with each other! This is the magic you feel in a room or a group when a captivating story is being told, and the audience is fascinated.




Further research has concluded that sentences containing action like “Pablo kicked the ball”, caused activity in the motor cortex, the area responsible for coordinating the body’s movements.


In a less formal study, a marketing professor had each of her students give a 1-minute pitch. Only one in 10 students used a story within their pitch, whilst the others stuck to more conventional pitch components such as facts and figures. The students were then asked to write down all they remembered about each pitch: 5 percent of students mentioned a statistic, but an incredible 63 percent recalled the story.


The Power of Storytelling

From these and others studies, we can conclude that the human brain does not distinguish between reading or hearing a story and experiencing it in real life. In both situations, the same neurological regions are triggered.


Stories empower the mind! It is now crucial to send people on journeys that lead them to solutions for their issues. Character-driven stories with emotional content result in a better understanding of the key points a speaker wishes to make and enable better recall of these points weeks later. When you want to motivate, persuade, or be memorable, start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. By first enticing their brains, you will capture people’s hearts!


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“ It is now crucial to send people on journeys that lead them to solutions for their issues. ”

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