A Passion for Story
I’m passionate about story. Story is powerful. Whether true or fictional, story can affect people in profound ways, enabling them to be more compassionate, more thoughtful, more insightful. Story can change lives.
How does story accomplish all this? A look at brain science gives us some hints.
Your Brain on Story
Have you ever read a book you couldn't put down? The heroine’s life is in danger. She must think fast, or all will be lost. Even though you’re curled up in bed, safe and sound, your heart is racing, and your mouth feels dry. Adrenaline pumps through your veins. You can't stop reading until you get to a place of resolution. That's your brain on story.
Now imagine you're trying to learn a list of dates and important events for a history quiz. No matter how much you care about your grade, you can't stay awake. Your eyelids grow heavy, your brain gets fuzzy, and you just can't concentrate. Why are we invigorated by story when we fall asleep reading facts? Because story engages our brains and emotions in very particular ways.
Story Hooks our Emotions
Stories evoke an emotional connection. Reading or hearing a story allows us to remember a time when we may have felt something similar. That creates a shortcut in the brain, so we feel another’s hurt, fear, or joy. Even if the situation in the story is completely unlike anything we have ever encountered, our brain reacts as if we’re there, living the experience along with the characters.
Story Connects People
Stories have the power to connect people across time and distance. For example, story can help us learn history because history is more than a collection of facts; it's the true stories of real people. Reading their stories, we form an emotional connection to people in the past. This, in turn, helps us understand and remember the dates and events associated with them.
Similarly, when we read a story set in a place or culture we’ve never experienced, we feel as if we’re there, experiencing that life along with the characters. We build connections with people in different cultures, which creates understanding and empathy.
Research Shows that Story is Hard-Wired into our Brains
Lisa Cron, in her well-researched book, Wired for Story (2012, Ten Speed Press), points out that storytelling is as old as the first people on earth. Story originated to bring people together to share information that might be lifesaving. Your brain, she says, has one main goal: survival. When we read a story, we can't help but think: what if this happened to me? How would I get out of this difficult situation? In this way, stories help our brains rehearse for a potentially dangerous situation. Our brains see story as a powerful tool for survival.
Gabriela Pereira, https://diymfa.com/ in a newsletter post on The Psychology of Storytelling (September 15, 2022) writes:
“Brain research studies have shown the following:
1. Story is universal, and we can find evidence of this on a neurological level.
2. Story is connected to empathy.
3. Readers respond to stories in ways that suggest a feeling of immersion.”
She points to a study by Hassan, et al, (2008) that documented correlation in brain activity between subjects as they watched different types of videos. Depending on the degree of story in the video, participants show higher or lower levels of collective neural response in
different areas of the brain. The study confirms that a plot-driven story with high character development leads to the highest level of collective neural response. In other words, our brains love story and use it to make sense of the world.
Why am I passionate about story?
Maybe because I'm passionate about people, and I’m passionate about connection.
Venture with me into the world of story. Get immersed, get excited. Prepare to be engaged. Prepare for adventure.