The Science of Storytelling

You might already be aware that telling a story makes good sense, but it is more than that. It is actually based on good science.

In the 2014 Harvard Business Review article, ‘Why your brain loves good storytelling’, neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, revealed the powerful impact the love hormone oxytocin has on the brain when we tell stories.

Oxytocin is also often referred to as the ‘trust hormone’. Our bodies release it when we are with people we love and trust, when we hug, or even when we shake hands in a business meeting. And it’s released when we listen to stories. Oxytocin being released signals to the brain that everything is okay and it is safe to approach others — essentially, that we won’t be attacked or eaten, as would have been the risk back in the day.

So not only does a good story make us feel different emotions and a connection to the storyteller it can heavily influence and impact our decisions.

According to Christine Comaford, neuroscience expert and author of the New York Times bestseller, ‘Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together’, 90 per cent of human behaviour and decision-making is driven by our emotions.

Not fully understanding this is often why we get incredibly frustrated when our team members do not do what we want them to do. In our mind, our request makes logical sense! But as best-selling author Dale Carnegie put it, ‘When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion.’

Marketing executives and advertisers are acutely aware of the power of using storytelling and emotion in business to drive purchasing decisions. A study of over 1400 marketing campaigns submitted to the UK-based Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) rated how effective marketing campaigns were, based on profit gains. The results showed:

  • campaigns based purely on emotion rated as 31 per cent effective
  • campaigns based purely on logic rated as only 16 per cent effective
  • campaigns that combined emotion and logic rated as 26 per cent effective.

This research indicates that using logic alone has the least impact and using emotion has almost double the impact. (For more on this research, go to www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog and search ‘emotional ads’.)

Storytelling is deeply rooted in making an emotional connection with another person. That’s why if you’re looking to make an impact or influence someone at work, it makes scientific sense to use a story.

As American poet Maya Angelou famously said, ‘People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel’.

Discover more about the Science of Storytelling, in my latest book, Stories for Work: The Essential Guide to Buisness Storytelling. This book explores how stories:

  • provoke emotions in our brain and body
  • make us feel something towards the person telling the story
  • help build trust and credibility
  • influence our audience into making a decision
  • aid in focusing listeners on key messages
  • help us to remember details rather than just facts and logic alone

It’s available now in book stores and online.

business communication, decision making, emotional connection, good stories, impact and influence, impact on decisions, oxytocin hormone, power of storytelling, science, stories for work, storytelling, the science of storytelling, trust hormone


Originally published at gabrielledolan.com on February 28, 2017.