Why Our Brains Love Stories and How Our Bodies React
“We always hear people say ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body,’ which is total BS because we all know that creativity isn’t a bone. It’s a muscle. And just like our muscles, we have to train them in order to make them stronger.”
– Noah Scalin
To be great storytellers, we simply have to practice.
Most of us don’t have time to put in the 10,000 hours to become experts, but if we understand the science behind storytelling, we can hack the process.
While storytelling continues to be an artform, research done in the past 10 years suggests that the real reason why humans love stories has a lot more to do with science than you might think!
Here are 3 main reasons our brains love stories:
1) BRAIN POWER: Words that convey a narrative use more brain power than words that do not convey a narrative.
The sections of our brain known as “language processing areas” play a critical role in the way we understand speech and language. When we hear a list of data, read a fun fact, or watch an informational video, our brains rely on these language processing centers to decode meaning.
Scientists now understand that when information is put into a narrative format, the brain uses language processing centers as well as other areas, like sensory and memory processing centers, to create a better understanding of plot.
Because we use larger portions of our brains to process narratives, we are more emotionally connected to stories than we are other non-narrative formats.
2) NEURAL COUPLING: This neurological phenomenon makes it difficult for our brains to differentiate between experiences that we hear, read, or watch and experiences that actually happen to us.
Or in other words, whenever we hear, see, or read a compelling story, our brain processes the stimuli as if we are the characters experiencing them. This creates a neural “link” between the storyteller or characters of a story, and the audience.
It’s why we walk out of a scary movie hesitantly looking around every corner. And why little girls feel empowered after reading Wonder Woman comics.
We love stories because we relate to characters. It’s not that we just like these characters; we actually feel empathy for them. And when we feel empathy, we are more prone to care.
3) LOVE HORMONES: As our brain processes compelling stories, our bodies react by producing hormones.
Dopamine is a hormone that can make us feel energetic and motivated. Often times, dopamine is produced when we hear stories that include tension, increasing our focus, motivation, and energy.
Oxytocin fosters empathy and promotes social bonding. This hormone is released when we hear stories with relatable characters, and has the ability to make listeners feel more generous and trusting.
Both of these hormones together form a tag-team of motivation to make us want to help people. If used the right way, they can inspire your audience to take action.
These three tips are huge and should be considered when crafting your story.
“How can I get my audience to relate to my characters?”
“What’s a way I can build up tension to increase dopamine?”
“Have I presented my information in a clear narrative?”
Storytelling is not just an art; it’s a science. The more we learn about how it works and why it works (and the more we practice making it work), the better we will become.
This is the quickest and most effective way to get people to connect with what you’re saying, empathize enough to care, and be motivated to act.