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The Psychological Science of Storytelling

A seafarer tells the young Sir Walter Raleigh and his brother the story of what happened out at sea

Do you still remember the bed-time tales and stories that you heard as a child? We all do, but why is that, let’s have a look. We all love stories, but have you ever considered the impact stories have on you? Storytelling is not merely an art, but as we see next, stories have great neural and psychological effects on the human brain and body. Things that are explained and told in the form of stories are easier to remember and form more permanent parts of memory.

Impact on the Brain and Memory

Our brain has two important areas that deal with the inflow and outflow of information, quite like a computer CPU. The Wernicke’s area is involved in the understanding and relaying of information that we hear or see in the form of words. Broca’s area is responsible for the output or speech by using language. But there are other areas that can be stimulated.

Boring PowerPoint presentations and straight forward facts being relayed to you might make sense at the time but are difficult or even impossible to retain. The reason is simple. Stories provide simulation and animation that can activate many more parts of the brain than simply the Wernicke’s area. For example, when someone tells you a story and says the following words “He kicked the ball with his foot,” our brain not only visualizes the action but the motor areas in the brain try to mimic the action, activating the muscles required to carry out the process.

To narrate an incident without the use of perceived animation will not activate many neural connections and will be harder to etch on the memory and recallat a later time.

A story that is full of metaphors, animation, and expression, told expressively will leave a stronger impact on a person. Our brain has much more to it than simply learning and thinking. It stores and replays everything ranging from sounds to fragrances! Even hearing the word rose-scented, activates the olfactory areas in the brain, helping one recall and relate the fragrance of rose to the incident. Hence an incident related to a certain association factor is the key to a good story as it makes your brain feel alive by feeling all the sensations!

Everyone gets bored due to the long presentations on PowerPoint. What if they were stories? Perhaps they would be more interesting to listen to. When a presenter narrates some bland statistics with the use of bullet points on a PowerPoint presentation, he is merely activating your eyes, ears, and at the most, the Wernicke’s areas. The more animated the presenter is, more of the information one can remember after the presentation is over. But if the information or each bullet point was explained with the help of a story, it will be forever imprinted on your memory.

Our brain forms memories through neural connections. The more areas are activated, the stronger the memories are etched on the brain and easier they are to recall. Other than helping us remember stuff, stories have a significant psychological and social impact on a person. Let’s see how the psychology of the story works.

Psychological Impact

Stories are not only meant to engrave some information on one’s memory. They have an effect that goes beyond the neural connections in the brain. Stories are a medium that can be used for personal growth, establishing a connection with other humans and developing in oneself a sense of empathy and understanding.

Through listening to a story, a person is able to review and analyze human behaviors and judge between truths and lies. A person listening to a story is not part of the setting but is eyeing it from a third person’s perspective. He is totally free to judge, understand, and analyze the behaviors and words that are being spoken. Such a person feels a deeper connection with the characters and consequently learns to better empathize with people and give meaning to similar situations in real life.

According to researchers, people who are prolific readers of fiction have a better ability than others to analyze and think about scenarios than people who do not read. Such people learn to see situations through the lens of others and can challenge their ideas and opinions, broadening their minds and learning to see the world from a broader perspective.

Stories are how we give meaning to experience. Life is laden with experiences and incidents. Sometimes it is difficult to give meaning to each experience in life. Researches indicate that people who are avid readers or those who think like in the stories, find it easier to connect those experiences with meaning. They are better able to accept and deal with all kinds of situations.

Stories Stir Emotions

It might come as a surprise, but most of our emotions result from the release and action of chemical substances within the body called hormones. By activating many centers of the brain at once, vibrant stories lead to the release of certain hormones. Cortisol helps in the formation of strong memories. Dopamine is responsible for most of our emotional responses.

The triggering and release of dopamine leads to a stronger feeling of emotions and keeps us engaged in the story. The release of Oxytocin plays an interesting part and helps one feel an association with other human beings. That perhaps explains why we start to admire certain characters in a story and try to become like them. The same theory follows in real life, helping to develop stronger associations and feelings towards another human.

Storytelling in Various Situations

We often see that stories have a stronger influence and serve as examples that help make learning and understanding easier. It also provides the storyteller with a great advantage of grasping people’s attention. A teacher who uses such devices helps his students learn better and is usually a kind of teacher whose class is engrossed in the lecture.

Politicians also use stories to get the interest of the masses. Stories seem truer, and politicians who are good orators usually use this simple wiring of the human mind rather than jumbling the chords by using complex statistics and facts.

Storytelling Makes Impressions

Perhaps a speaker at a seminar or a presenter at a conference, some people are suddenly loved by the audience. Why is that? In life, we often come across new people, some make a vivid part of your memories, and even if you do not meet them again, you continue to admire them.

Upon reflecting, you will notice that they used the trick of telling stories. Stories are how our brains are wired. Stories are a part of our daily interactions. A person who is a good storyteller leaves something for people to remember even after the first interaction. He usually makes an excellent impression. The reason could simply be the effect stories have on us.

A good storyteller leaves people with a lot of things to remember from the conversation, and people look forward to meeting and talking to the person again. This is a skill only a few people master, but it is a very important phenomenon that involves every interaction in our lives. A good storyteller leaves a remarkable impression in the interviews, can be a great teacher and inspirer that can help people learn and understand things in a better way.

Conclusion

Storytelling is not merely a form of art. It is backed by a plethora of scientific facts.

Storytelling helps people learn, teach, inspire, and remember. Stories bring a person closer to the core of experience and help them understand why certain behaviors occurred and how could they have been avoided. All in all, a good storyteller can do wonders on the active listeners.

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