Stories - The Power to Inspire and Connect
In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have become increasingly fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling and how the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions. Of course, marketing communicator curiosity would not be too far behind.
Keith Johnstone is a world-renowned Canadian drama instructor, born in Devon, England. His books and teachings have focused on improvisational theater and have had a major influence on the art of improvisation. Johnstone grew up hating school, finding that it blunted his imagination and made him feel self-conscious and shy. In the late 1950’s, as a play-reader, director and drama teacher at The Royal Court Theatre in London, he chose to reverse all that his teachers had told him, in an attempt to create more spontaneous actors. Here is what he had to say about the inherent power of stories and storytelling:
“We were all warned that Algebra was going to be really difficult, whereas Einstein was told that it was a hunt for a creature known as ‘X’ and that when you caught it, it had to tell you its name.” ~ Keith Johnstone
How Our Brains React to Stories
We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie, or simply an experience one of our friends is explaining to us. But, why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events? In fact it’s quite simple. If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in our brains gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning.
And that’s it, nothing else happens. Researchers in Spain found when we are being told a story though, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too. If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active. Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” will rouse the sensory cortex.
In a recent scientific research study, participants’ brains were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball”. The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements. Ultimately, a story will apparently put your whole brain to work.