STORIES HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE OUR BRAINS

by Lucy

Hieroglyphics. Cave dwellings. Fireside chats. Ghost stories at a campsite that scared you so much you were afraid to go to sleep. Telling stories, and the way we pass along information has been one of the most basic ways we communicate with each other, and while the mediums are changing, the concept is still the same.

Something happens in our heads, in our brains, when we hear stories. Think about it — how much do you retain, when sitting in a classroom, or watching someone show you a PowerPoint presentation? Now think about how much you retain when your best friend tells you a story about something that recently happened?

When we are being shown facts and figures, certain areas of our brain take in that information. But when we are being taught something through a story, our brain automatically puts more of US into that story. Our brain is taking in the information when told in story-form, as if we were also experiencing that event.

The same thing happens when we are the storytellers. The brain of the person telling a story and listening to it, can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:

“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”

Stories put our brains to work! If I were to say, I ate a steak yesterday, that doesn’t bring up much in your brain, right? But what if I were to tell you, “I ate a steak yesterday. It was medium-rare, a little pink in the center, and it had just come off the BBQ grill, so it was still juicy and little drippings were sliding off the plate as I was setting it down on the table.” Without even thinking about it, I’ll bet your brain gave you a mental picture of that steak, right?

How can we use this to our advantage? This tells me that if I want to get someone’s attention, or present a case to them during a business presentation, I need to personalize the information. I need to create an emotional connection between the information I want to get across and the person I’m telling the information to.

Who knew that I could have done so much better in my most hated class in school, if my teacher had just taken the time to tell me a calculus story?!

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